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New Mercury Warning for Tuna

New Mercury Warning for Tuna

Why was the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland mad as a hatter? Before the use of mercury was banned in the 1940s, hat makers used it in their craft which left many of them drooling, twitching, lurching, befuddled and mumbling. These days, you don’t have to be in the millinery business to be worried about mercury—it is has invaded our waters and consequently much of the fish we eat.

We’ve been hearing about mercury in fish for a while, but now a new round of testing conducted by Consumers Union has found mercury in each of the dozens of cans and pouches, prompting a more stringent warning on tuna consumption. The samples were purchased in the New York Metropolitan area and online.

There is no debate about the toxicity of mercury poisoning from fish. It is most threatening to prenatal development—thus pregnant women are advised to practice extreme caution when eating fish. Young children and women planning on becoming pregnant are always advised to watch their mercury as well.

Consumers Union is urging pregnant women to avoid eating tuna altogether and advising small children to limit consumption. “White” tuna generally contained more mercury than “light” tuna, but some light tuna contained enough that a woman of childbearing age eating less than a can a week would exceed federal recommendations for mercury consumption, the new Consumer Reports study says.

Children who weigh less than 45 pounds are urged to limit their weekly intake to 0 to 4 ounces of light tuna or 0 to 1.5 ounces of white tuna, depending on their weight. For children who weigh at least 45 pounds, the recommended limits are 4 to 12.5 ounces of light tuna or 1.5 to 4 ounces of white tuna, depending on their weight.

Mercury occurs naturally, but is also a product of industrial pollution. In this guise it falls from the air and settles in our waterways—there, it is turned into methyl mercury and absorbed by fish. As it goes, larger and older fish have a longer time to build up mercury than smaller and younger fish. Plus, large predatory fish at the top of food chain generally have higher levels of mercury. Although the FDA had determined safe levels of methyl mercury consumption for adults—I’d rather just avoid the risk of neurological damage altogether, thanks.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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6:15AM PST on Nov 25, 2012


3:13PM PDT on May 30, 2012


3:13PM PDT on May 30, 2012


4:56AM PST on Jan 31, 2012

Thanks for the article.

9:55AM PDT on Oct 16, 2011

Thank you for making us aware of the dangers of tuna.

4:33AM PDT on Sep 17, 2011

Good to know. Thanks for the great info.

5:39AM PDT on Jul 15, 2011

"There is no debate about the toxicity of mercury poisoning from fish." appears to be untrue according to this site here, and yes refers to scientific literature old and new. Granted it seems to have an agenda but not totally unfounded. It would appear that before you shout "high in mercury" you need to add "low in selenium" before scaring people.

2:03PM PDT on Jul 14, 2011

When we are just about done destroying the earth and water, mother nature will shake us off like fleas on a dog....and we will deserve it.

8:28AM PDT on Jul 14, 2011

this means all other fish has mercury in it right? even pet goldfish, and large mouth bass in the wild lakes, as well as zebra mussels?

5:23AM PDT on Jul 14, 2011

new knowledge for me ,.... thanksss

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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