To protect developing babies and young children from high levels of potentially dangerous mercury, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued a joint consumer advisory about mercury in fish and shellfish.
The warning is specific for women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers and young children.
The FDA and EPA continue to emphasize the benefits of eating fish and shellfish. Fish and shellfish contain high quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children’s proper growth and development.
Women and young children can safely include fish as an important part of a healthy diet by following these recommendations:
1. Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
2. Eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
Albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters. Don’t consume any other fish during that week.
Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve smaller portions.
Where does mercury come from?
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through pollution. Mercury that falls from the air can accumulate in streams and oceans. Bacteria in the water cause chemical changes that transform mercury into methylmercury. High levels of this type of mercury can harm the brain and spinal cord of an unborn baby or young child. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed in these waters. Methylmercury builds up more in some fish than others depending on what they eat and how long they live.