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Government Tests Confirm Mercury Levels in Canned Tuna Are Low

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Underscoring the safety of canned tuna for all Americans, new findings from the government's food safety agency -- the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -- confirm that canned tuna contains mercury levels that are very low and are considerably less than what the federal government allows, the United States Tuna Foundation (USTF) announced today.

"FDA's latest findings about mercury levels in canned tuna should end the debate over whether canned tuna is a safe and healthy food for all Americans," said David Burney, USTF's Executive Director. "No one is at risk from the minute amounts of mercury in any form of canned tuna."

According to FDA's latest testing data for mercury levels in commercially sold fish and shellfish, the average amount of mercury in light canned tuna remains at 0.12 parts per million (ppm), which is eight times lower than the very conservative 1.00-ppm limit for commercial fish set by FDA. Updated in January 2006, FDA's tests results cover ongoing monitoring of commercial fish from 1990 through 2004.

FDA's latest data also show that the average amount of mercury in canned albacore tuna remains at 0.35 ppm, which puts canned albacore tuna in the same category as many other commonly eaten fish, such as lobster (0.31 ppm), Chilean sea bass (0.38 ppm), and bluefish (0.34 ppm). This finding supports the recommendation contained in the government's seafood advisory that pregnant and nursing women, women who might become pregnant and very young children can safely eat up to 6 ounces a week of canned albacore tuna. Issued jointly by FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the advisory is only intended for these special groups and not for men, women who do not plan to become pregnant or are past childbearing age, school-aged children and adolescents.

FDA Data Clarifies Issues Regarding Mercury Levels in Canned Tuna

USTF also used the updated FDA test data to refute the series of misleading articles in the Chicago Tribune about mercury levels in seafood. According to FDA's findings, only four species of fish are classified as having high mercury levels: tilefish (1.45 ppm); shark (0.99 ppm); swordfish (0.98 ppm); and king mackerel (0.730 ppm). For this reason, the FDA/EPA seafood advisory states that pregnant and nursing women, women who might become pregnant and young children should avoid these fish.

FDA's new findings also confirm that when yellowfin is used in light canned tuna, the amount of mercury is very low. Specifically, when the agency tested canned tuna containing yellowfin, the amount of mercury was 0.18 ppm, a level consistent with the average for canned light tuna of 0.12 ppm.

Armed with this data, USTF made clear that the yellowfin in canned tuna should not be confused with the way in which most yellowfin is sold in the U.S. and around the world: as fresh and frozen cuts used as tuna steaks and sushi. According to FDA tests conducted on fresh and frozen yellowfin between 2002 and 2004, the average amount of mercury was 0.32 ppm. However, because yellowfin is an expensive fish and consumed infrequently by most Americans, the higher mercury levels are not of any public health concern.

At the same time, USTF clarified how mercury levels in fish are reported, stating that the "mean" or average concentration is what regulators and the public health community use to determine the potential exposure to mercury over a lifetime of fish consumption. This takes into account both the lowest levels of mercury detected in fish samples and the highest amounts. According to the results of FDA's testing during 2004, the lowest level of mercury in some of the 347 samples of canned light tuna analyzed was so low as to be undetectable, while the highest sample was 0.85 ppm. However, since neither figure accurately reflects the amount of mercury that people are likely to consume on a consistent basis, the government uses the average of 0.12 ppm.

USTF Underscores Health Benefits of Canned Tuna

Based on FDA's new test results, the U.S. Tuna Foundation called for an end to the "politicization" of the mercury issue because scaring people away from consuming fish has the potential to create a real public health crisis.

"Fish is an important part of a healthy diet, but unfortunately, its many health benefits are being overlooked by consumers worried about mercury levels in fish," said Burney. "From the standpoint of public health, the real risk for the public is not getting enough canned tuna and other types of fish in the diet."

Underscoring this point is a major study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, which confirms that the health benefits of consuming seafood far outweigh any risk due to trace amounts of mercury in fish. Published in the November 2005 issue of the American

Journal of Preventive Medicine, the new study concludes that for women of childbearing age, cognitive benefits can be achieved with virtually no negative impact on the developing child if women of childbearing age eat two servings a week of fish that are low in mercury. The Harvard researchers further reveal that if Americans reduce their fish consumption out of confusion about mercury, there will be serious public health consequences, notably higher death rates from heart disease and stroke.

More information about canned tuna and its health benefits is available at the USTF Web site,

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

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