Tuna: A Low Mercury Fish

Mercury in fish. Sounds scary, right? It does until you realize that trace amounts have always been in every fish eaten since the beginning of time because it is naturally occurring in our oceans. Or until you know that no single person in the United States has ever experienced mercury poisoning from normal fish consumption, 2 to 3 meals or 8-12 ounces of fish weekly recommended by public health organizations. In fact, no U.S. government study has ever found unsafe levels of mercury in women or children who eat canned tuna. FDA’s guidelines regarding fish consumption and mercury are the most stringent in the world.

Did you know that all of the top ten most popular fish consumed in America – including canned tuna – are ‘low mercury’ fish? The ten most popular fish Americans enjoy today represent 90% of all of the fish we eat – and all ten species are low in mercury and fall well within the U.S. government’s very conservative safety guidelines. Albacore tuna contains somewhat more mercury than canned light tuna – however, the amount is still very low. The vast majority of health experts would agree that the real health concern regarding fish is that Americans don’t eat enough of it! Missing out on fish is missing out on its high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, lean proteins, vitamins, minerals and many heart and brain health benefits.

Seafood Choices, Balancing Benefits and Risks Fact Sheet, Institute of Medicine, October 2006, p 3
According to testing conducted by FDA, canned light tuna has an average of 0.12 parts per million (ppm) of methylmercury per can. Canned albacore tuna has an average of 0.35 ppm. To put these amounts into perspective, FDA has set a limit of 1.00 ppm for mercury in fish – and the 1.00 ppm limit has a ten fold safety factor.  Meaning – you would have to eat ten times more fish than the current safety threshold  of 1.00 ppm everyday for the rest of your life to reach a level associated with any known risk. That’s a lot of tuna!

“I haven’t seen science that a single serving of a higher level would be of concern. Mercury is very much a chronic-exposure concern. You build up the levels in the blood, and that seems to be the problem…We are not aware of any science that would indicate that having an occasional meal at that level would cause any harm.”
– David Acheson, M.D. FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition