Scientists Confirm No Link Between Prenatal Exposure to Mercury in Fish, Impaired Neurodevelopment

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Scientists Confirm No Link Between Prenatal Exposure to Mercury in Fish, Impaired Neurodevelopment

The canned tuna industry is hailing a long-term study being published today as a confirmation of their continuous message to consumers that normal consumption of ocean fish-including canned tuna-is clearly safe, even for pregnant women.

“What the public can conclude from this long-awaited study is that canned tuna-which contains only trace amounts of mercury-poses no health risks,” said Dave Burney, Executive Director for the U.S. Tuna Foundation. “It’s time to quit scaring consumers and allow them to enjoy good food that’s good for them. We shouldn’t ignore mercury and its effect in large concentrations. But we also shouldn’t ignore the scientific proof-eating canned tuna poses no health risks, and it offers significant health benefits.”

In today’s issue of the British medical journal, THE LANCET, publishers report investigators have concluded that “there is no evidence of neurodevelopmental risk from prenatal methylmercury exposure resulting solely from ocean fish consumption.”

A team of researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center investigated 779 mother-infant pairs enrolled in the Seychelles Childhood Development Study, which was established in 1989. The 80,000 residents of the East African islands northeast of Madagascar are high-volume consumers of ocean fish. Mothers in the study reported 12 fish meals a week, compared to the U.S. average of one meal a week.

In a commentary accompanying the published report, Dr. Constantine Lyketsos, of Johns Hopkins Hospital, said, “the existing evidence suggests that methylmercury exposure from fish consumption during pregnancy, of the level seen in most parts of the world, does not have measurable cognitive or behavioral effects in later childhood…For now, there is no reason for pregnant women to reduce fish consumption below current levels, which are probably safe.”

Prenatal methylmercury exposure was determined by analyzing the women’s’ hair during pregnancy. Then, nine years later, investigators tested their children for neurocognitive, language, memory, motor, perceptual-motor, and behavioral functions.

All ocean fish contain some mercury naturally. Canned tuna has a concentration of 0.17 parts per million, far below the Food & Drug Administration action level of 1.0 ppm. The FDA, American Heart Association, and other health organizations have noted that canned tuna-an excellent source of protein and beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids-is a healthy food choice and an important part of a balanced diet.

Canned tuna is one of the safest, healthiest foods on the market today,” Burney said. “The facts are in: Consumers should feel comfortable in coming to the table and enjoying a safe and convenient tuna meal, like they have for a full century.”

Canned tuna, which celebrates its 100-year anniversary in 2003, is a $1.1-billion industry in the U.S., with Americans consuming about a billion pounds of tuna annually. It’s a staple meal choice for nearly nine out of every 10 households in the nation.

For more information on canned tuna, its benefits, and new ways to enjoy it, go to The U.S. Tuna Foundation is the national organization representing canned tuna processors and the fishing boats that supply them.

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