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Tuna Industry Underscores Safety of Yellowfin Used in Canned Tuna, Challenges Media Reports

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Tuna Foundation today challenged news reports about the use of yellowfin in canned tuna, stating that all tuna species in canned light tuna contain mercury levels that are very low and are considerably less that what the federal government allows.

Responding to a new article in the Chicago Tribune, the U.S. Tuna Foundation (USTF) stated that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)conducts a review of mercury levels in canned light tuna, the agency will find that canned light tuna is a very low mercury fish. This is because the majority of canned light tuna is packed with skipjack tuna, a species that is exceeding low in mercury. Depending upon supplies, the industry occasionally uses small quantities of yellowfin, containing equally low levels of mercury. As a result, the average amount of mercury in light tuna -- including cans that contain yellowfin -- is 0.12 parts per million (ppm), which is eight times lower than the very conservative 1.00-ppm limit for commercial fish set by the Food and Drug Administration. This puts light canned tuna in the same low-mercury category as shrimp, salmon, and pollock.

"When yellowfin is used in canned light tuna, the mercury level is very low," said Dave Burney, USTF's Executive Director. "No one is at risk from the minute amounts of mercury in any form of canned tuna."

The U.S. Tuna Foundation also clarified inaccurate reporting about how yellowfin tuna is packed and marketed to American consumers. Considered one of the most valuable of all tunas worldwide and therefore, much more expensive than skipjack, most of the larger yellowfin are used in sushi or tuna steaks. However, less than 5 percent of the entire canned tuna market is specialty packs of yellowfin that are packed in the European style with olive oil and marketed as a gourmet item.

Along with clarifying questions about the use of yellowfin tuna, the U.S. Tuna Foundation emphasized that no government study has ever found unsafe levels of mercury in anyone who ate canned tuna. This includes two large studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found that every one studied --100 percent -- had mercury levels that were significantly below the threshold for any known risk. USTF also pointed to a recent study by the National Institute for Minamata Disease in Japan where people eat an average of 145.7 pounds of tuna and other fish a year, compared to only 16.6 pounds for the average American. According to this study, 72 percent of all Japanese women have significantly higher concentrations of mercury in their systems without any evidence of health effects. Further, the study found that Japanese children were not affected by their high blood mercury levels or the high blood mercury levels of their mothers. In fact, Japanese children tend to score extremely high in IQ tests.

"From the standpoint of public health, the real risk for the public is not getting enough canned tuna in your diet," said Burney. "If the public reduces or eliminates fish consumption based on unsubstantiated risks concerns, they will lose a number of well-established health benefits."

Specifically, the U.S. Tuna Foundation pointed to the findings of 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.

This is also consistent with the joint seafood advisory issued in 2004 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Both agencies closely studied the best available science relating to mercury in seafood, and their advisory is based on a careful review of the facts relating to fish consumption. The 2004 FDA and EPA advisory is specifically for women who are pregnant (or might become pregnant), nursing women and young children, and provides clear and appropriate guidance about the best ways to incorporate fish into a healthy diet.

The U.S. Tuna Foundation also pointed to new guidelines recommending that all Americans -- especially pregnant and nursing women and children -- eat seafood twice a week, despite the current concern about pollution contamination. These guidelines summarize scientific findings presented at a conference recently held in Washington, D.C, reiterating that seafood helps people live longer and healthier lives, and cuts the risk for heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, stroke, diabetes, and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, iron and chorine present in fish such as wild and farmed salmon, shrimp, pollock, cod, canned light tuna and catfish, are important in brain development and may lessen the effects of dyslexia, autism, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder, researchers have found, and some studies have linked those nutrients with increased intelligence in infants and young children.

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