Groups want tuna off school menus

A coalition of consumer groups is recommending the U.S. Department of Agriculture get tuna out of school lunchrooms after tests of canned tuna sold to schools found highly variable levels of mercury, in some cases higher than federal guidelines.

Tuna industry groups countered that canned tuna is safe and wholesome. The real public health issue is that “we don't eat enough” seafood, says Gavin Gibbons of the National Fisheries Institute, a seafood industry group in McLean, Va.

The Mercury Policy Project of Montpelier, Vt., is a non-profit working to reduce mercury in the environment. It tested 59 samples of tuna in institution-size cans and foil pouches from 11 states. The levels of methylmercury were in general close to previous tests done by the Food and Drug Administration. However, levels of mercury varied widely, even from the same can or pouch. The average methylmercury content ranged from 0.02 to 0.64 parts per million in light tuna and between 0.19 and 1.27 parts per million in albacore tuna.

“On any given day in a given school, children eating the same meal could get mercury doses that vary by tenfold, just because of the variability of the chunk of meat in the packet,” says Edward Groth, author of the report, released Wednesday. It was sponsored by several groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Current federal dietary guidelines urge Americans to eat seafood twice a week because seafood is a healthy protein and contains omega-3 fatty acids, important for metabolism, but most people eat it once a week or less, says Gibbons.

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