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Feds Issue New Advisory on Fish Safety

Posted 3/19/2004 8:52 AM Updated 3/19/2004 11:57 AM

Feds recommend kids, some women limit their fish intake

WASHINGTON (AP) < Worried that mercury in fish poses a hazard to youngsters
< while still trying to stress the health benefits of seafood < the
government issued new guidelines Friday for eating fish.

Women who are pregnant, nursing or may become pregnant, and young children
should not eat certain kinds of fish that tend to be high in mercury, said
Lester Crawford, deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

While mercury can affect almost any organ in the body, "the most sensitive
organ is the brain," said Crawford. "The concern is there could be a mental
effect on a young child."

At the same time, the new guidelines emphasize that fish is a good source of
protein and other nutrients and "can be important parts of a healthy and
balanced diet."

Dr. David Acheson, an FDA scientist, said that for people other than
pregnant women and young children, fish has many benefits and there is no
specific guideline on limiting it in the diet. In fact, he added, eating
fish has very important cardiovascular benefits.

Acheson said the way fish is prepared makes no difference as to the amount
of mercury included in a serving.

In recent years fish has become increasingly popular because of the omega-3
compounds it contains that can benefit the heart.

The American Heart Association recommends that people eat a variety of fish
at least twice a week, even more for those diagnosed with heart disease.

The problem is that mercury pollution from industry and other sources
contaminates water. It pollutes small fish, which are then eaten by larger
fish, concentrating the mercury which then may affect people who eat the
fish.

So, questions have arisen about how best to protect human health.

Consumer's Union and other groups have been pressing the government to come
up with a consumer-friendly list of low-mercury fish, since not all fish are
polluted equally.

The new guidelines, issued jointly with the Environmental Protection Agency,
do that.

They say the fish most likely to contain mercury are shark, swordfish, king
mackerel and tilefish. These fish should be avoided by women in the groups
that may be most affected, and also by small children, the guidelines say.

On the other hand, the guidelines suggest eating up to two meals a week,
totaling 12 ounces, of fish known to be low in mercury such as shrimp,
canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.

Albacore tuna has more mercury than light tuna, the agencies report, so it
should be limited to one meal a week.

The trade association the National Fisheries Institute issued a statement
stressing the health benefits of fish and expressing concern that the
guidelines might alarm consumers and cause them to avoid fish.

But Crawford said that "by following these guidelines, we're confident that
women and young children can safely include fish as an important part of a
healthy diet.