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Should pregnant women avoid tuna fish? FDA, Consumer Reports disagree

A long standing point of contention between the

A long standing point of contention between the FDA and Consumer Reports involving tuna is back in the spotlight.

A long standing point of contention between the FDA and Consumer Reports involving tuna is back in the spotlight.

The FDA recently released an updated draft of its advice for pregnant women's recommended fish consumption, which suggests 8-12 ounces of lower-mercury fish per week.

But Consumer Reports takes issue with the draft advice for adding a minimum amount of fish -- 8 ounces -- and for not ruling out tuna fish altogether.

“We believe FDA’s advice on tuna is not sufficiently protective of pregnant women,” the agency wrote in a the letter to the FDA. “For this group, we believe tuna should also be on the ‘do not eat’ list."

Consumer Reports also took issue with the fact that a graphic previously posted online with the FDA’s dietary guidelines that ranked fish by mercury content, is now gone (a list of mercury levels in fish is still available on the FDA website, but it is not currently attached to the draft advice and is not ranked from most to least like the graphic chart).

Consumer Reports said the FDA should repost the original chart.

The FDA disagrees with that conclusion, however.

"The Consumer Reports analysis is limited in that it focuses exclusively on the mercury levels in fish without considering the known positive nutritional benefits attributed to fish," the FDA has said in published reports  "As a result, the methodology employed by Consumer Reports overestimates the negative effects and overlooks the strong body of scientific evidence published in the last decade. "

But what makes mercury so controversial, anyway? According to a summary about mercury provided by the EPA, the effects of exposure in children can be fairly devastating, and worsen with increased exposure. The list of these effects include delays in reaching developmental milestones -- such as the age at which a child first walks -- and decreases in intelligence.

Higher doses of mercury exposure introduce another, more severe level of effects including mental retardation, reduced muscle coordination, blindness, seizures, muscle weakness, and an inability to speak, according to the EPA.

And while the levels of mercury in tuna haven’t changed from previous years, Dr. Jonathan Herman, an attending OB-GYN for Long Island Jewish Medical Center, said that it seems instead to be a change of thought. “The fish didn’t get more mercury than yesterday, [Consumer Reports is] just saying that the recommendation to eat tuna carried too much mercury in it.”

And there’s a basis to their argument, he said: “It’s 4 mcg for salmon and it’s 60 for tuna in the same 6 oz. portion,” Herman said. “So in that regard you can eat 15 portions of salmon until you get to the level of mercury that’s in tuna.”

His take? It’s always best to avoid any risk at all.

“Why would we go someplace where we have a question when we have other safe foods to eat?”

On its website, the FDA says the draft is currently open for interested parties to comment before the recommendations are made final.


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