MONTPELIER, VT - March 18 -A revised "dietary advisory" for mercury in fish, expected to be released shortly by FDA, is neither science-based nor protective enough for women and children, stated some of the nation's leading health, consumer and environmental groups in a letter recently sent to FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan.
"While the new advisory is a step in the right direction, it is not protective enough," says Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project and one of the co-signers of the letter. "Following FDA's advice and eating 12 ounces of certain higher mercury fish in a given week could result in exposures well over the EPA reference dose," he points out. "In particular, the advice would inadequately protect sensitive populations from average mercury levels in canned albacore and fresh tuna."
The revised advisory says albacore can safely be consumed once a week. Yet, based on FDA's own recent test results, which found an average of 0.358 part per million (ppm) mercury in albacore tuna, a single serving would likely result in a weekly exposure well above the EPA's reference dose (RfD, the maximum safe level of exposure, based on a detailed scientific risk assessment), for many consumers.
"A 22 pound toddler eating only 2 ounces of albacore tuna per week with the average mercury concentration found by FDA, would have an intake nearly 3 times the EPA's RfD," says Bender. "A 130- pound woman who eats 6 ounces of albacore tuna (a serving recommended in FDA's draft advisory) would get one and one half times the RfD."
In a March 10, 2004 letter to FDA CFSAN Director Robert Brackett, FDA's own Food Advisory Committee also highlighted the importance of addressing the canned tuna issue: "While there are several areas of importance, the first recommendation to address would be that FDA should address the impact of canned tuna on the risk assessment."
FDA has developed its revised advisory primarily based on input received through focus groups and agency and White House deliberations, and it is not a science-based standard, says Bender. In particular, FDA has expressed no urgency about keeping consumers' doses of mercury within the EPA RfD, which has been reviewed and endorsed by the National Research Council as science- based and appropriately protective.
Groups signing on to the letter included Consumers Union of US, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation, the National Environmental Trust and the Sierra Club.
To see the Letter to FDA Commissioner from health, consumer and environmental groups: http://www.mercurypolicy.org/new/fdaletter022404.html