New Research Reveals Fish Jerky is High in Mercury

By October 11, 2011Got Mercury?

An investigation into mercury levels in marlin, ahi tuna and salmon fish jerky published today in the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Health revealed concentrations of the neurotoxin in some fish jerky that averaged five times the U.S. government action levels, exposing a hidden health risk to women, children and others vulnerable to mercury exposure. Download the study here.

“It is shocking to find such high levels of toxic mercury in a snack sold as a healthy food,” said Teri Shore, a public health advocacy group based in Marin County, California, that provides a free online calculator for estimating mercury exposure from fish. “Mercury warnings need to go on fish jerky labels so people can make informed choices. The federal government must take immediate action to alert people to this hidden mercury threat.”Demand that the FDA take action here.

The mercury research was conducted by physician Dr. Jane Hightower of San Francisco, also the author of the book, Diagnosis Mercury, and Dr. David Brown of Chico State University.

Marlin jerky contained the most dangerous concentrations at 5 parts per million mercury – over five times the limit of 1 part per million set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ahi tuna and salmon jerky contained mercury levels as high as .5 parts per million mercury.

A 132-pound person eating a small 1.5 ounce bag of marlin jerky at the average mercury concentration would result in an intake of mercury five times the weekly limit deemed safe by the FDA. A total of 105 fish jerky samples were tested from 21 packages purchased at stores in Hawaii and California and from on-line vendors.

The study found that:

  • Only one package of marlin jerky had all five samples below the FDA level of 1 part per million
  • Six marlin jerky samples contained mercury greater than 10 parts per million
  • One marlin sample reached 28 parts per million
  •  Most of the marlin samples (89 percent) exceeded the lower U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action level of .5 parts per million mercury
  •  The 15 samples of ahi tuna had mercury concentrations ranging from 0.09-0.55 parts per million mercury
  • Mercury concentrations in 15 salmon samples ranged from 0.030-0.17 parts per million mercury

The U.S. FDA has never tested mercury in fish jerky, so it is not included in its advisory for women and children not to eat high mercury fish such as swordfish and shark or to limit servings of albacore tuna. The FDA is responsible for seafood safety and the regulation of mercury in commercial fish and fisheries products.

Like other large, long-lived fish, mercury bioaccumulates in the flesh of marlin, a commercial and prized sport fish. When dried for jerky, mercury levels become concentrated. Marlin jerky and other fish jerky are sold at supermarkets around the U.S. and online and often marketed as a healthy food choice.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the number-one source of mercury exposure in the United States is contaminated seafood. The FDA has determined that women of childbearing age and young children should not eat swordfish and should limit consumption of tuna due to high mercury levels.

Mercury contamination of seafood is a widespread public-health problem, especially for women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing women and children. Mercury ingestion can lead to memory loss, developmental and learning disorders, vision loss, heart disease and, rarely, death.