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For Immediate
July 11, 2000

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  NAS Methylmercury Report Shows FDA Failed to Protect Consumers from Unsafe Seafood
Statement of Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director Center for Science in the Public Interest

     “Today’s National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) report discloses that methylmercury in seafood causes neurological problems in as many as 60,000 children each year. However, that report misses a critical gap in food-safety protections. The Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) guideline validated by the report covers only recreationally-caught seafood. Yet, the seafood sold in supermarkets and restaurants is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), using a standard that is less protective than EPA’s.

     “FDA was first warned that its ‘action level’ for methylmercury was inadequate by the 1991 NAS report, Seafood Safety. In 1992, a consumer group petitioned FDA to revise its safety standard for seafood to ensure that it protects pregnant women and children from the toxic effects of methylmercury. For eight years, FDA has recklessly exposed children to neurological damage from methylmercury by failing to act on that petition.

     “FDA should immediately start testing tuna (canned and fresh), swordfish, and shark to ensure that they meet the current standard. In addition, FDA should set a tolerance for methylmercury in seafood that adequately protects pregnant women and their children.

     “Women who are or who may become pregnant, as well as young children, should avoid eating swordfish, shark, and tuna until FDA sets a standard that keeps unsafe fish off the market.”