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Mercury Contaminated Seafood Not Limited to Tuna Sushi

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Mercury is not just a problem in tuna sush. While a new survey found high levels of the toxic substance in the popular dish, tests conducted by the conservation group Ocean also found that equally dangerous amounts of mercury in fresh tuna steaks and swordfish as well. The Oceana findings are similar to other recent studies on fresh seafood and mercury, and prove that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and other federal regulatory agencies have not done enough to insure that consumers are protected from mercury-tainted seafood.

In 2004, the FDA joined with the Environmental Protection Agency to warn women who might become pregnant and children to limit their consumption of certain varieties of canned tuna. However, the FDA mercury advisory does not address the threat from fresh tuna or other fresh seafood. From what Oceana discovered, the FDA clearly made a mistake.

The group had an independent laboratory conduct tests of 94 samples of fish and sushi bought in 26 U.S. cities. According to Oceana, the average mercury concentration for tuna steaks bought in grocery stores was 0.68 parts per million (ppm), which is nearly double the FDA estimate of 0.38 parts per million for fresh or frozen tuna. Mercury content in sushi tuna was even higher, with an average value of 0.86 ppm. Fully one-third of sushi tuna samples contained mercury exceeding the FDA “action level.”

Oceana’s tests reinforce findings of survey conducted by The New York Times in October. According to The New York Times, tuna samples from the Manhattan restaurants Nobu Next Door, Sushi Seki, Sushi of Gari and Blue Ribbon Sushi and the food store Gourmet Garage had mercury above one part per million, the “action level” at which the FDA can take food off the market. The highest mercury concentration, 1.4 parts per million, was found in tuna from Blue Ribbon Sushi.

Taken together, the mercury testing makes it clear that consumers face a serious threat from tainted seafood. Exposure to even small amounts of mercury over a long period may cause negative health effects including damage to the brain, kidney, lungs, and the developing fetus

Because of its findings, Oceana has called on the FDA to require warning signs to be posted where fish covered by U.S. government advisories are sold, including at grocery store seafood counters. The group also wants to see the FDA increase the frequency of its testing of commonly consumed fish, especially fresh tuna of all species. And finally, Oceana would like the FDA to consider including fresh tuna (including steaks and sushi) on its “Do Not Eat” list.

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