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Elevated Mercury Levels in Canned Tuna Sold to Schools

MONTPELIER, Vt.—A coalition of consumer groups is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to phase out commodity purchases of canned tuna for schools, and replace it with lower-mercury alterative seafood items and other extra-lean protein sources after a new study from the Mercury Policy Project (MPP) found highly variable levels of mercury in tuna samples.

The “Tuna Surprise" report, co-released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Physicians for Social Responsibility, Safe Minds, and several other public health, consumer and environmental groups, advised schools and parents not to serve any albacore tuna to kids and to limit consumption of light tuna to twice a month for most kids and only once a month for children under 55 pounds. Albacore or “white" tuna had triple the mercury levels than did “light" tuna, and mercury levels in both types were highly variable.

“Most children are already consuming only modest amounts of tuna and are not at significant risk," said Michael Bender, MPP’s director. “So the focus really needs to be on kids who eat tuna often, to limit their mercury exposure by offering them lower-mercury seafood or other nutritious alternatives."

According to the report, canned tuna is by far the largest source of methylmercury in the U.S. diet and accounts for nearly one-third of Americans’ total exposure to this toxic mercury compound.

MPP tested the mercury content of 59 samples, representing eight brands of tuna, sold to schools in 11 states around the country. Researchers analyzed a variety of scenarios in which children of different ages ate different amounts of tuna with different mercury levels, and examined the relative exposure and risk from each scenario. Exposures in those scenarios ranged from less than one-quarter of to more than 40 times the current federal definition of safe exposure. There was no difference in the brand of tuna.

“Kids who eat tuna frequently can easily get very high mercury doses," said Ned Groth, Ph.D., an environmental health scientist, who helped analyze the data. “Some of the larger doses are clearly far too high to be acceptable."

Click here to access the full report.


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