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Mercury in Seafood

U.S. Fish Advice May Expose Babies to Too Much Mercury

March 16, 2016

Mercury in Seafood: Recommendations

Women who are pregnant, nursing or considering pregnancy should choose fish that are low in mercury and high in omega-3s. EWG’s Good Seafood Guide identifies the safest, most sustainable species. If you don’t eat fish regularly, consider taking an omega-3 supplement while you are pregnant and nursing. If you eat more than 12 ounces of seafood per week, it is even more important to select lower mercury species.

FDA and EPA must improve their draft seafood advice to women. American women and parents of young children urgently need better advice about seafood choices. The FDA and EPA’s seafood advice for pregnant women should follow the lead of the Dietary Guidelines and clearly identify high-omega-3, low-mercury seafood choices. It must also list additional moderate- and high-mercury fish women should limit or avoid for up to a year prior to conception.

Federal agencies must do more to promote seafood safety. Good advice is only a first step toward healthier seafood consumption. It will also take a coordinated effort between federal agencies, health care providers and nutritionists to educate people about healthy fish choices during pregnancy and childhood. A substantial body of research identifies communities at higher risk for mercury ingestion, and should be used to target people at high risk.

Retailers should inform consumers about high mercury fish. Grocery stores, fish markets and restaurants must also play a role in ensuring that seafood consumption provides a net health benefit. Responsible retailers should stop selling very high mercury fish species, and should use warning labels, shelf talkers or posters at the point of sale to highlight moderate mercury species to limit and avoid during pregnancy and childhood.

State and federal officials must continue to reduce mercury emissions into the environment. In the U.S., coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions. Gold mining and other historic industrial activities have polluted lakes and waterways where people fish. Despite national efforts to reduce mercury emissions, concentrations of mercury in the marine food chain are rising due to increases in global mercury pollution

The U.S. must comprehensively implement the Minamata Treaty to address global mercury contamination. In 2013 the U.S. joined 127 nations and signed the Minamata Convention, a global treaty committing international governments to reducing mercury emissions, and became the first country to ratify the convention. The treaty is a good start, but mercury contamination will be long lasting. Mercury levels in the global environment are projected to double by 2050 if the Convention is not effectively implemented. This increase in global mercury pollution could lead to greater concentrations in larger predatory fish and increase risk for seafood consumers, as is already being observed in Pacific tuna.