New Data Show FDA/EPA's Mercury Advice on Tuna Doesn't Hold Water

Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal


Ask a pregnant woman: What if you found out the government based its tuna advice on just a few types of canned tuna, and missed those with the very highest levels? I bet she would say, "Sorry Charlie, I’ll skip it this time". After all, skipping tuna for the brief span of the pregnancy is no big deal if it offers greater protection from harm to the unborn fetus.

Defenders of Wildlife's canned tuna testing shows that FDA's "averages" for mercury in canned light tuna just don’t hold water. This means the government's advice is not protective for many pregnant women and children, especially those who:

• Eat imported canned tuna from Latin America, especially Ecuador.

• Buy “no-name” brands of light tuna.

• Shop for tuna in ethnic neighborhoods.

Defenders of Wildlife has documented that children who limit their canned light tuna consumption to two cans of tuna a week (recommended by the government advisory) would exceed the EPA reference dose in almost every case if they weighed less than 50 pounds. Consuming many of the brands they tested, children would quickly exceed the level of mercury in their bodies at which adverse health effects have been observed.

Given these results, many women and children may want to limit their consumption of canned tuna to levels well below those recommended by FDA. While an occasional tuna sandwich is not a problem, a steady diet of tuna for women of childbearing age and children could lead them to have excess levels of mercury in their body. Pregnant women or those planning a pregnancy should be especially careful, as the mercury they accumulate in their bodies can be transferred to their unborn fetus. The fetus is much more sensitive to mercury and can suffer adverse neurological development, affecting such areas as walking and speech development.

The good news is that mercury gradually leaves the body, so if a woman stops eating high mercury containing fish about a year before she becomes pregnant, she can reduce the levels in her body to negligible amounts.

So here is our advice to pregnant women, those planning a pregnancy, and those serving young children: Eat fish, but avoid shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. Limit consumption of tuna to an occasional sandwich, and avoid all albacore and light tuna brands where the fish comes from Latin America.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]