Is Tuna Fish Safe?
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Is Tuna Fish Safe?
What amount of tuna is safe to eat?
Even the federal agencies entrusted with dealing with this question seemingly aren't sure.
The FDA has known for many years that canned tuna contains mercury, which studies have linked to learning impairment in children. But it wasn't until last year that the FDA and EPA issued a mercury advisory that mentioned tuna and urged limits on how much of the fish children and women should consume, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The advisory said that nursing mothers and women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should eat no more than 12 ounces of chunk light tuna a week, and no more than 6 ounces of solid white albacore, which is higher in mercury.
It advised young children to eat "smaller portions," without specifying the limits.
But the maximum mercury consumption the EPA had earlier said was safe is one microgram a day for each 22 pounds of body weight. If a 130-pound woman ate as much albacore as the federal advisory allows, she would exceed that level by 40 percent, according to the Journal.
EPA senior scientist Rita Schoeny said there is no way to know for sure if people who follow the fish advisory and consume more mercury than the EPA limit are actually safe.
Mercury emissions from power plants settle into bodies of water. Large fish that consume small fish - such as tuna and swordfish - eventually have a buildup of mercury, and people take in mercury when they eat those larger fish.
Almost 35 percent of the mercury consumed in the U.S. comes from tuna.
One tuna lover who reportedly saw first-hand the effects of eating the fish is Matthew Davis of San Francisco.
Matthew's parents "always thought fish was great. They knew it was high in omega-3 fatty acids, which they understood could help brain development," the Journal relates.
So they were delighted when Matthew started eating his "brain food" for lunch and snacks.
But in the fifth grade, Matthew - formerly a good student - began falling behind. He missed assignments and labored at simple tasks. His fingers began to curl, and he could no longer catch a football.
A neurologist tested Matthew and found that his blood was contaminated with mercury in amounts nearly double what was considered the safe limit. He had mercury poisoning.
Matthew had been eating three to six ounces of white albacore tuna a day for about a year - and was consuming at least 12 times the daily dose that the EPA considered safe for a child his size.
David Burney, executive director of the U.S. Tuna Foundation, a trade group, said flatly: "There is no connection between a learning disability and mercury."
And an ad sponsored by the Foundation last year extolled the benefits of fish's omega-3 fatty acids for babies' eyes and brains, and said canned tuna is "absolutely safe to eat."
But Matthew Davis stopped eating tuna. Nearly two years later, his blood-mercury level is zero - and his condition has improved dramatically.
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