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Toxic Tuna and Holiday Food Drives

Holiday food drives are in full swing with everyone across the country dropping thousands of cans of tuna into boxes at churches, schools, supermarkets and food banks. What you may not realize is that for women who are or plan to become pregnant and their children, eating more than one or two servings a week of albacore or canned light tuna could be harmful to their health due to mercury content, according to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Instead, food donors and organizers should consider mercury-free protein foods such as canned beans, canned soup, soy products and even canned chicken instead of, or in addition to, tuna. Lower mercury fish such as sardines or wild salmon are also options. Food drive organizers can also help inform families in need to limit tuna consumption by distributing copies of FDA fish advisories in every bag.

White albacore tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna, so women and children should eat no more than about one can (6 ounces) per week, according to the FDA. The FDA considers chunk light tuna lower in mercury and allows up to two cans a week (12 ounces) for women and children. But the project, which I help direct, and other public health groups advise that even this much tuna can be a problem due to mercury content.

Tuna of all types is the number one source of mercury in the American diet – contributing more than one-third of all mercury ingested from fish. Of that, about 16 percent comes from canned albacore, 16 percent from canned light tuna, and about 6 percent from fresh/frozen – according to the Mercury Policy Project.

The FDA has found that 15 percent of babies born in the United States each year have dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies due to their mother’s consumption of fish. Studies have shown that mercury can contribute to memory loss, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. But the FDA does not alert food drives or the public to the mercury issue, except on its website. Seafood sellers are not required to warn fish eaters about mercury.

People can check personal mercury exposure from tuna or other fish based on weekly servings and individual weight at the mercury-in-fish calculators at or on the go at Mercury exposure is based on FDA fish testing data.

Teri Shore

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