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Mercury in Tuna Still a Concern, Consumer Reports Says

Seafood Industry Calls New Report a "Retread" of 2006 Information
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 7, 2010 -- Mercury levels in tuna remain too high, according to a new investigation by Consumer Reports.

"Mercury in tuna is still a problem,'' says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, who was part of the team involved in the new report, issued today.

It will appear in the January issue of Consumer Reports.

"There has been concern about mercury in fish for quite a while," Halloran tells WebMD.  "There has been growing concern about tuna."

Consumer Reports found the average levels of mercury in white or albacore tuna have gone up since it scrutinized results in 2006 from FDA testing in 2002 and 2004 of mercury levels in canned tuna.

The seafood industry takes exception to the report. The new report is ''simply a retread of a 2006 report that does a disservice to its readers by using tried and true tactics to exaggerate concern," says Gavin  Gibbons, a spokesperson for the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va., who reviewed the report for WebMD.

Mercury in Tuna: New Findings

In the latest investigation, Consumer Reports sampled 42 cans and pouches of tuna, both white (also called albacore) and light, bought mostly in the New York metropolitan area or online.  An outside lab analyzed the samples.

White or albacore had more mercury than light, Halloran's team found.

Samples of white tuna had 0.217 to 0.774 parts per million (ppm) of mercury, averaging 0.427.

A woman of childbearing age who ate 2.5 ounces of any of the samples would be over the intake deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Consumer Reports says.

Samples of light tuna had less: 0.018 to 0.176 ppm, with an average of 0.071.

The previous FDA database found that 0.35 ppm was the average for white and 0.118 for light.

Mercury in Tuna: What to Do?

Consumer Reports has stricter recommendations than do the FDA and EPA.

The EPA and FDA recommend that women of childbearing age, pregnant or not, along with young children, avoid some fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Among the fish to be avoided: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, all high in mercury. Mercury can accumulate in the body, and even low exposure has been linked in pregnant women and young children to problems in hearing, learning, and other conditions, Consumer Reports says.

For the lower-mercury fish, the EPA and FDA suggest women of childbearing age and young children limit their eating to up to 12 ounces (about two average meals) a week of fish and shellfish, including up to 6 ounces of white tuna.

The lower-mercury fish include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish, according to the EPA and FDA.

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