Health Groups Urge USDA to Drop Canned Tuna

By October 31, 2006Got Mercury?

GotMercury.Org Supporters Ask for Low-Mercury Canned Fish Alternatives for Mothers

FOREST KNOLLS, CA (October 31, 2006) — Health groups around the country are urging the USDA to no longer offer canned tuna in the WIC program because of mercury risks. WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children run by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), currently exposes breastfeeding mothers and their nursing infants to mercury in canned tuna when healthier options exist. The health groups are urging this recommendation during the USDA comment period on WIC food package changes, which ends next week on November 6.

“The USDA should take commonsense precautionary measures to avoid exposing mothers who breastfeed and their nursing infants from the high and varying levels of mercury in canned tuna,” said Eli Saddler, public health analyst for GotMercury.Org. “Low-income families deserve canned wild salmon, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines that the FDA reports have a fraction of the mercury that even light tuna contains. No one needs pollution on their plate when there are healthier alternatives.”

The USDA estimates that about 252,572 women exclusively breastfeed as part of WIC’s Food Package VII program. Canned fish is included as an incentive for breastfeeding mothers. The USDA plans to increase the canned fish amount from 26 ounces a month to 30 ounces a month. While the USDA plans to end the use of canned albacore tuna because of mercury risks, it is still considering the use of light tuna in the program. There are no federal standards regulating what can be sold as “light tuna” so it can refer to lower-mercury skipjack tuna, but can also include high-mercury yellowfin or bigeye tuna.

The Institute of Medicine estimated that there is only a two-cent difference per ounce between canned tuna and canned salmon, demonstrating a small investment would give mothers more Omega-3 fatty acids and with limited mercury exposure. Scientists estimate that mercury exposure causes billions of dollars in annual costs to the US due to lower IQs and other health problems caused by methylmercury, the organic neurotoxin found in some fish. Tuna, like other fish that are long-lived and grow large, bioaccumulate methylmercury as goes up the food chain.

GotMercury.Org has been organizing consumers to submit their comments before November 6 at http://GotMercury.Org/WIC so that mothers and infants can have healthier canned fish options and that the USDA will remove canned tuna from the WIC program.

“The public has sent hundreds of emails to the USDA asking them to stop putting low-income moms and infants at risk of mercury exposure by only offering canned tuna,” Saddler continued. “When healthier and sometimes cheaper options are available, all taxpayers should speak out to end subsidizing tuna companies at all our expense.”

GotMercury.Org has made the following requests to the USDA regarding canned fish in the WIC Food Package VII program:
1. Removal of all canned tuna from the WIC program.
2. Require states to offer alternative canned fish options without the ability to opt out.
3. Require states to provide mercury-in-seafood education to empower mothers to make informed decisions about the risks of mercury and the benefits of healthy seafood choices.

Available Resources:

1. Consumers can calculate their mercury exposure from seafood: http://GotMercury.Org
2. B-roll of mercury in seafood images.
3. Electronic Press Kit: http://GotMercury.Org/press or http://GotMercury.Org/info
4. Interviews with mercury poisoned women and children available.
5. FDA and EPA Consumer Advisory on Methylmercury in Fish: http://GotMercury.Org/fda

About GotMercury.Org
GotMercury.Org is a public health education campaign to protect consumers from mercury in seafood and to make healthier, safer choices. GotMercury.Org is an online calculator that uses the EPA formula for mercury exposure with the FDA published data on seafood mercury levels. The GotMercury.Org campaign has worked to increase posting of mercury-in-seafood advisories in restaurants and supermarkets, first in California under Proposition 65 and later through partnerships and grassroots consumer efforts. GotMercury.Org’s campaign last year led to Safeway posting mercury advisories nationally. In November, Bon Appétit Management Company, in partnership with GotMercury.Org will launch a national campaign to educate consumers in their 400 cafés nationally. GotMercury.Org has tested mercury in sushi tuna across the US, receiving national and international media attention about the risks to consumers.