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New California Legislation Urges Stronger Mercury-in-Seafood Warning System

Today Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) introduced Assembly Joint Resolution 57 urging the federal Food and Drug Administration to take responsibility for and, actions to, reduce the public’s exposure to mercury in seafood.

AJR 57 specifically encourages the U.S. FDA to develop, implement and enforce a nationally comprehensive consumer advisory warning system, require seafood companies and retail food establishments to label seafood that exceed the FDA safe mercury level, and increase public education efforts in order to assist people in deciding which fish is healthiest for their diet. AJR 57 will be voted on in the coming weeks.
“The federal government has issued seafood warnings in the past, yet they are often overlooked or ignored. I am stunned that not more has been done at the federal level to ensure public safety from this highly toxic and highly consumed chemical,” Huffman said.

“With sushi and fish tacos practically a staple in California diets, residents need to know about mercury levels in seafood,” said Teri Shore, Program Director, Gotmercury.org. “This resolution will send the message that seafood lovers need more information to make the best choices.” People can estimate their mercury exposure from fish with a mercury calculator found at www.gotmercury.org.

In March 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration re-released an amended consumer advisory notice warning women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to avoid exposure to the harmful effects of mercury found in fish, yet the U.S. lacks a national, comprehensive advisory system to warn consumers about mercury levels in seafood.
Methyl mercury, the kind of mercury found in fish, is a potent neurotoxin that can slow brain development in children, harm pregnant and nursing women, attack the nervous system of adults and lead to a higher likelihood of heart disease. Although natural sources contribute to mercury’s pervasive nature, two-thirds of the mercury present in our environment is a result of human activities. Once released into the air, mercury is deposited back onto land and water, where bacteria then converts mercury to toxic methyl mercury, and it accumulates in the food chain. The FDA has determined that seafood containing mercury levels that exceed one part per million (ppm) may be harmful if eaten too often. However, mercury levels of swordfish and tuna tested in California markets frequently exceeded the FDA limit of one ppm in fish tissue and in one sample the mercury levels were 230 percent over the FDA limit.