DECEMBER 9, 2003
3:03 PM
CONTACT:  Mercury Policy Project
Michael T. Bender 802-223-9000 or 802-249-8543 (cell)
FDA Tests Show Mercury in White Tuna 3 Times Higher than Can Light, Says Mercury Policy Project
  WASHINGTON - December 9 - FDA just-released test results show that the Albacore "white" canned tuna has three times the mercury levels as the "light" tuna. Of the 300 cans sampled, FDA's results for the canned white tuna averaged 0.358 parts per million mercury, while the light tuna was 0.123 ppm. Yet the agency's newly proposed fish consumption advice for pregnant women and children does not follow sound science, say advocates.

"FDA's tests confirm earlier findings that white tuna has far more mercury than light," said Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project. "Yet inexplicably, FDA still refuses to warn women and kids to limit canned tuna consumption-like 12 states have already done-even after their food advisory committee recommended this over a year ago."

Methylmercury -- the organic form found in fish -- is a potent neurotoxin that poses the greatest risk to the fetus, infants and children. CDC data indicates that 8 percent of women have unsafe mercury levels, translating to over 300,000 babies born at risk each year.

"FDA's new advice says it's OK for women and kids to eat up to 12 ounces of seafood, including white tuna, that have mercury levels over 0.3 ppm," said Bender. "By doing so, FDA is placing millions at risk of mercury exposure through exceedence of the EPA's reference dose-a health standard endorsed by the National Academy of Science."

How much fish a person can eat before exceeding the EPA's reference dose (RfD) depends on body weight, mercury content of fish and consumption. For example:

FDA will present its new findings and draft advisory this Wednesday at a DC meeting of its food advisory committee, along with a new advisory for women and children which, in part, states: "Tuna is the most frequently consumed fish in the United States... Unlike canned light tuna, tuna steaks and albacore canned tuna contain higher levels of methylmercury because they are larger fish."

Based on FDA's latest test results, Bender also urged FDA to specifically warn women and children to limit canned tuna consumption and avoid consuming Albacore/white canned tuna, like the Rhode Island Department of Health has recently done.

"Fish can be part of a healthy diet, even for pregnant women," said Dr. Patricia A. Nolan, Director of the RI Department of Health, in a statement release in June 2003. "By avoiding fish that are high in mercury, such as swordfish, shark, local freshwater fish and albacore tuna, mothers-to-be can enjoy the benefits of fish, with minimal concern for their pregnancy."

In July 2002, the FDA's Food Safety Committee recommended a series of sweeping policy changes including harmonizing the Agency's action level with EPA's more stringent standard; warning specific sensitive populations to limit consumption of canned tuna; conduct mercury testing for canned tuna and other fish; and determining what the exposure risks are for sensitive populations, particularly for young children.

Inexplicably, in the year and one-half since the Committee made its recommendations, the FDA has not officially implemented any of these measures even though readily admitting that between 30-50 percent of all women across the U.S. remain largely unaware of exposure risks from methylmercury.

Independent sampling of canned tuna taken from supermarket shelves across the U.S., released by the Mercury Policy Project in June 2003, indicates that over six-percent of the white-albacore tuna samples tested contains mercury at or above the FDA's Action Level of 1 part-per-million (ppm). Tests results also found that amounts of mercury in "white" canned tuna had average levels four- times higher than "light" canned tuna.

Links to FDA's New Draft Fish Consumption Advisory and Dec.10 & 11 Meetings:

State Canned Tuna Advisory Links:

1997 Minnesota

1997 New Jersey

1999 Vermont

2000 Maine

2001 Massachusetts

2001 New Hampshire

2001 Washington

2001 Wisconsin

2002 California

2003 Rhode Island

2003 Hawaii

WA Health Department Canned Tuna/Mercury Graphs, see page 12 of the MPP report at:

Additional Contacts:

Bob Vanderslice, RI Department of Health; 401-222-7766

Ned Groth, Consumers Union, 914-378-2301

Linda Greer, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202-289-6868