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March 1, 2002

FDA Removes Tuna as Risk to Pregnant Women

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is being criticized for its decision to eliminate tuna from a list of fish that may pose a risk to pregnant women because they contain levels of mercury that could cause learning disabilities in newborns.

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization, claims that the FDA was reluctant to include tuna with other seafood that may contain harmful levels of mercury because of pressure from the tuna industry.

Thomas Burke, PhD, MPH, professor of health policy and management and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Risk Science and Public Policy Institute, studied the effects of mercury in seafood as a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on Toxicological Effects of Mercury. The NAS report concluded that some children of women who consume large amounts of fish and seafood during pregnancy could be at special risk for neurological problems. According to the study, an estimated 60,000 children are born each year in United States with an elevated risk for neurological problems because of exposure to methyl mercury in utero that could lead to poor school performance. 

While Dr. Burke does not believe canned tuna could pose a risk to pregnant women, he suggests pregnant women avoid consuming tuna steaks, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Dr. Burke feels that occasional consumption of canned tuna, one or two times a month, poses little risk to pregnant women, but he stresses that better information on levels of mercury in canned tuna is needed.

To read more articles on the subject, click here.

To read the NAS report on Toxicological Effects of Mercury, click here.