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FDA Ignoring Dangerous Mercury Levels in Canned Tuna

From Agribusiness Examiner #270
By Al Krebs <avkrebs@earthlink.net>
7/18/03

TUNA INDUSTRY'S UNDUE INFLUENCE
ON FDA, POSSIBLY PUTTING CONSUMERS
AT RISK, TO BE EXAMINED TONIGHT
ON PBS'S "NOW" WITH BILL MOYERS

PR NEWSWIRE: "Now" with Bill Moyers tonight at 9 p.m EDT. on PBS will examine how the influence of the tuna industry on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be putting Americans and their children at risk for mercury poisoning.

The report exposes that the FDA only tests about a dozen cans of Albacore tuna for mercury a year and doesn't ask to review the tuna industry's own tests. A consumer group's recent study indicates that as many as 22 million cans of tuna could have mercury levels above the FDA's action level, which would make them subject to recall.

Even though canned tuna is known to contain methyl mercury and is the third most popular item on grocery store shelves after sugar and coffee, it isn't listed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in its current consumer advisory.

"We know there are people who are eating more canned tuna than is considered safe," says NOW's senior Washington correspondent Roberta Baskin. "It's important that people get the information they need to assess the risk. But the FDA has, so far, been studying the mercury in tuna problem and lagging behind other governmental agencies on putting out clear advice about it."

A startling fact revealed in the broadcast is that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) mercury guidelines are much stricter than the FDA's. According to the EPA's standard, a 45-pound child eating just one six ounce can of white chunk Albacore tuna per week risks ingesting almost four times more mercury than is considered safe.

The FDA, NOW reports, hasn't added tuna to its advisory because, the agency says, it doesn't want to scare consumers away from an affordable food with widely acknowledged health benefits. But last month, the World Health Organization and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization cut in half its recommendation on how much mercury people can safely consume in their food. Reluctant to wait for the FDA to toughen their warnings, ten states have issued their own advisories on mercury levels in canned tuna: California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Washington, Wisconsin, and Vermont.

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