US FDA Urged to Ban Mercury-Laden Fish from Store Shelves

Canada Bans Mercury-Laden Fish from Store Shelves:
US FDA Urged to Take Similar Action

Yesterday, Health Canada announced its new policy to protect consumers from mercury contaminated fish. In addition to lowering acceptable mercury limits to one part per million of commercial fish, Health Canada has banned contaminated tuna, shark, swordfish, escolar, marlin and orange roughy from store shelves. US public health advocates are calling on the US FDA to follow suit.

“Compared to Health Canada’s consumer friendly policy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is spoon-feeding Americans half-truths about mercury contamination,” said GotMercury.Org’s Caryn Mandelbaum. While the FDA 2004 consumer advisory urges women of child-bearing age, pregnant women and children to avoid some of the same fish, the agency covered up information about mercury in tuna and made no steps toward protecting consumers at the store with warning signs or bans on sales.

The history of regulating mercury in seafood in the US is one of industry groups dominating science. In 2001, the FDA actually removed tuna from its consumer advisory. While initially listed as a fish to avoid due to high-mercury levels, the FDA removed tuna from consumer advisory after several meetings with industry leaders. The FDA now recommends 12 ounces of canned light tuna and up to 6 ounces of canned albacore tuna weekly. Contrast these figures with Health Canada’s recommendation of no more than 8 ounces of contaminated fish monthly for women and children.

According to the DC-based Environmental Working Group’s analysis of FDA data, if women follow FDA’s advice on “safe” levels of consumption of mercury-contaminated seafood like white (albacore) tuna, 74 percent of American women will go over the safe level for mercury in their blood. It should be no surprise then that the EPA estimates that 630,000 babies are born in the US each year with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood

Most recently, the FDA suppressed California Attorney General’s efforts to require warning signs about mercury contamination at point-of-sale locations and on canned tuna labels. Warning label efforts originated with GotMercury.Org’s legal action against retailers for sales of carcinogenic products in violation of state consumer right to know laws.

“Like Health Canada, the FDA has a duty to inform Americans about the whole-truth of mercury-laden fish on our store shelves,” said Mandelbaum in response to Canada’s new food safety policy.

Since 2002, GotMercury.Org has worked to raise consumer awareness about the public health risks of mercury consumption. The GotMercury? calculator has provided hundreds of consumers with the information they need to make healthier seafood choices. In 2005, GotMercury.Org released two exposes revealing the dangerous levels of mercury on the menus of the nation’s premier sushi restaurants.

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