About the dangers of mercury in some fish
02282002 – Updated 11:52 PM ET
FDA fish warning criticized
By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
The FDA recommends pregnant women avoid: Swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish
The Environmental Working Group says pregnant women should avoid: Swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, tuna steaks, sea bass, Gulf Coast oysters, marlin, halibut, pike, walleye, white croaker, largemouth bass
The Food and Drug Administration softened its warning to pregnant women about the dangers of mercury in some fish, notably tuna, under industry pressure, an environmental group charges in a report to be released Friday.
The FDA rejects the charge.
A 2000 National Academy of Sciences report estimated 60,000 women nationwide are putting their fetuses “at risk” of brain damage because of mercury in the fish they eat. Last year, the FDA warned pregnant women not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish. But the agency said they could eat up to 12 ounces equal to two cans of tuna of any other fish weekly, potentially exposing them to mercury levels that the NAS report deemed dangerous.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an organization best known for raising concerns about pesticides, obtained 1,036 pages of FDA transcripts from focus group meetings with consumers conducted two years ago to test safety messages about mercury and fish. EWG officials say FDA scientists told participants that following the agency’s advice wouldn’t protect a fetus from harm.
“What we see in the FDA documents is an agency in disarray,” says Laura Chapin of EWG. The focus group meetings show the FDA was considering a broader warning for pregnant women that would limit tuna steak consumption to three times monthly and canned tuna to 9 ounces weekly. Some women in the focus groups said they ate a can of tuna daily while pregnant. Of the five most popular seafoods shrimp, trout, salmon and catfish are the others only tuna has worrisome mercury levels, EWG says.
In one focus group transcript, an FDA scientist warns that a woman should eat only 1 cans of tuna a week. In another, the same scientist says, “The action levels we have in place are not protective enough for this the fetuses.” But Chapin’s group says that after three meetings with the seafood industry, the FDA opted only to suggest that pregnant women eat fish in moderation.
“It’s a pretty tale, but that is not what happened,” says FDA toxicologist Mike Bolger. He says the focus group participants misunderstood complex messages about which fish to avoid, so the agency went with a simple list. However, EWG’s analysis of participants’ statements found 80% of them wanted and understood a more detailed explanation.
A tuna industry spokesman denied that the industry influenced the FDA’s advisory. “Plenty of people, pediatricians, consumer groups, met with the agency on this issue besides us,” says Randi Thomas of the U.S. Tuna Foundation.
About 40 states have separate mercury-level fish warnings to pregnant women. The EPA recommends that pregnant women and young children eat only small amounts of fresh-caught fish once a week.
Bolger says the 60,000 fetuses “at-risk” for mercury poisoning doesn’t mean all will necessarily be harmed. “That’s right in a sense, but it doesn’t mean an insignificant number of children will be harmed either,” says toxicologist Charles Santerre of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
Because nutrients in fish, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, are key to fetal development, the agency faces a bind, Santerre says. “However, not all fish are created equal,” he says, noting low levels of mercury in salmon and farmed fish such as trout and catfish.
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Fonte: Dan Vergano USA TODAY