Consumer Reports has issued a special report that states women who are pregnant should not eat tuna fish. The special report was issued after their own food safety experts took a look at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data on mercury levels in seafood. Consumer Reports disagrees with the FDA recommendations on tuna fish consumption by women and children and they feel that pregnant women should not eat any tuna fish at all.
The problem with eating tuna fish, and also other kinds of fish, is the flesh of the fish contains mercury and when one consumes the fish, one also consumes mercury. Mercury is harmful to the body and toxicity due to mercury is not reduced by natural biological processes. Mercury is thought to affect the brain and nervous system and this is of special concern for a developing fetus or for children.
The mercury gets into the flesh of the fish by the fish by consuming plants and smaller fish in the waters of lakes and oceans that have high mercury levels. Larger fish, like sharks and swordfish, have higher mercury accumulation levels than smaller fish because they live longer. Smaller fish such as trout, sardines and sole have lower levels of mercury in their flesh and are safer to eat. The mercury levels in the Pacific Ocean have increased by about 30 percent over the previous 20 years and are expected to continue increasing over the next few decades.
The FDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report in June 2014 stating that they revised their advice on fish consumption. Their revision was to encourage more consumption of fish by pregnant women, women who intend to become pregnant, mothers who are breastfeeding and young children. They issued this report because a scientific study showed that one in five pregnant women were avoiding eating fish. The recommendation was that two to three servings of fish should be eaten per week. They also encouraged consumption of a variety of fish that had lower mercury levels. Tuna was listed in this report as a type of fish with lower mercury levels. This is the statement that Consumer Reports disagrees with.
Jean Halloran, who is the food policy initiative director at Consumer Reports, is reported to have said that she is particularly concerned about consumption of canned tuna fish because it is the second most commonly eaten type of seafood eaten in the U.S. Shrimp is the number one seafood consumed in the U.S.
There is general agreement that eating fish is a good thing because of the high protein content, low saturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids and beneficial vitamins. The nutritional value of fish is highly desired for pregnant women and also for children. The only drawback, which is the cause of concern, is the mercury content. Tilapia, salmon and shrimp are considered to be good choices of fish and have the lowest levels of mercury. Founder, catfish and pollack are considered to good choices as well. Larger fishes like sharks, swordfish and king mackerel and not good choices.
Conflicting reports can make it hard to decide what to eat or not to eat, especially when one is pregnant and considering the health of the child. However, both the Consumer Reports special report and the statement by the FDA are available online (see sources) and the information is available to all for each to make their own decisions.
By Margaret Lutze