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Pregnant women should avoid canned tuna

October 17, 2006

In Light of New Studies, Consumers Union Reinforces Advice:
Pregnant Women Should Avoid Canned Tuna;
Young Children Minimize Exposure

In response to two new studies—one from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) to be released later today and the other from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released this morning, Consumers Union is reinforcing its advice that as a precaution, pregnant women should avoid canned tuna and young children should minimize exposure. The two new reports fail to specifically address the unique risks of mercury posed to pregnant women and young children, especially with regard to tuna.
The IOM report gives the same guidance for pregnant women, women of childbearing age and children up to 12 years of age; that it’s okay to have 6 ounces per week of albacore and up to 12 ounces of chunk light. The JAMA study refers only to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advice, which Consumers Union believes does not go far enough.
“While we agree with the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Institute of Medicine that fish is an important source of protein and contains heart-protecting omega-3 fatty acids, we’re disappointed that neither of these reports takes into account the variations in mercury levels found in the cans of light and white tuna (albacore) sampled by the FDA nor the potential impact on the most vulnerable populations,” says Jean Halloran, Director of Food Safety Initiatives for Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Some of the tuna cans FDA tested contained mercury levels that were very high–as high as the fish that these organizations say women of childbearing age should totally avoid–shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel.”
CU is particularly concerned in light of a Environmental Health Perspectives study that came out in September 2006 that found that pregnant women who had pre-term births (prior to 35 weeks) were more likely to have mercury levels (measured through their hair) at or above the 90th percentile of the women included in the study. This study by researchers at Harvard and Michigan State University included roughly 1025 mothers and appears to be the first community based study to evaluate risk of preterm birth (<35 weeks) with mercury intake. Since its July 2006 issue, Consumer Reports has recommended that pregnant women avoid all tuna. Its advice for young children up to 45 pounds, depending on their weight, is that they only eat about one-half to one 6-ounce can (roughly 4.5 ounces drained) of chunk-light tuna per week, or up to one-third of a can of solid-light or white-tuna. In terms of older children weighing anywhere from 45-130 pounds, CR’s experts advised that these children should eat no more than one to three cans of chunk-light tuna per week or one-third to one can of solid-light or white tuna depending on their weight. For women of childbearing age who are not pregnant, CR recommended that these women eat no more than about three chunk-light cans per week, or one can of solid-light or white-tuna. The full report is available for free at http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/food/tuna-safety/overview/0607_tuna_ov.htm.
“In addition to being concerned about the failure of the JAMA and IOM reports to address the risks of mercury in tuna, we are also concerned that both reports dismiss concerns about PCBs in most fish. We recommend that pregnant women and women of childbearing age choose fish that are lower in PCBs (ie choose wild caught or canned salmon over farm-raised salmon),” adds Halloran.

Jean Halloran, (914) 378-2457
Jen Shecter, (914) 378-2402