The issue of mercury contamination in seafood is more salient than ever and may be more acute than the FDA or the fishing industry cares to admit.
SAFbaby believes that we as consumers have the right to know what they are eating, and simply put, the FDA has woefully failed to protect the public in this regard.
Mercury is not a pretty thing for the human body and is a major contribution to the reason many parents are concerned with vaccinations and autism. So, as a parent and pregnant mother, knowing how to reduce and eliminate mercury in our diets is critical! In a recent post we have warned of mercury in high fructose corn syrup.
Having recently learned that Safe Harbor® tests more seafood for mercury each year than any other company or government agency in the world, we were excited to do an interview with them on this important subject.
Because Safe Harbor® has found seafood being sold in grocery stores and retail outlets across the nation with mercury levels woefully above the EPAs maximum blood mercury threshold of .3 ppm and even well above the FDA’s 1.0 ppm “action level,” we wanted to know how pregnant mothers and parents can find a way to give their children the numerous benefits of fish without the adverse health risks.
Protecting our Kids from Mercury in Fish
The FDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise pregnant moms and children not to eat any amount of swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish, and to eat up to only 12 ounces per week of fish that are lower in mercury. But we have way more questions….
What are the benefits of fish for young children?
First and foremost it is important to communicate that no one under employ at MASI/Safe Harbor is a registered dietitian or physician. That being said, what is commonly agreed upon by health experts is that fish have numerous positive benefits for all demographics, including young children.
Fish are rich in protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which are crucial for brain development in young children and also have cardiovascular benefits for adults. Though the positive aspects of consuming fish are undeniable, ALL FISH also contain mercury and can contain other potentially harmful elements.
For a small child or pregnant mother, is any ingested amount of mercury safe?
Absolutely not. Mercury is a known neuro-toxin and any amount of exposure can have potential negative side effects. However it is important to distinguish the difference between “safe” and “acceptable.” Especially for developing fetuses and young children, even small amounts of exposure to the heavy metal can be detrimental.
The FDA action level for mercury in all seafood is 1.0 ppm. Is this acceptable for the long term health and well-being of our children? What action can parents take?
That is a difficult question to answer as this is a very confusing issue. The FDA and the EPA have differing limits as to what the acceptable level of human exposure is.
The EPA has jurisdiction over recreationally caught or sport fish. Their limit is .3 ppm. The FDA has jurisdiction over commercially sold fish and their limit is 1.0 ppm, a difference of over 300%.
There is no agreement between these two government agencies for the acceptable human exposure threshold. More research needs to be conducted to determine exactly what level of exposure is acceptable per respective body weight.
Such a limit is hard to determine because mercury affects everyone differently – a healthy adult male has a completely different threshold for the “acceptable” exposure limit than say a 6 month old child. Again, additional research needs to be conducted in this area.
Why is it that some fish (such as swordfish, shark and king mackerel) contain more mercury than others? Are smaller fish and seafood (such as shrimp) safe since they are low in the food chain?
Mercury is a naturally occurring element and is found in many rocks including but not limited to coal. When coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment. Mercury in the air eventually settles into water or onto land where it can be washed into our waterways. Once deposited, certain microorganisms can change it into methyl mercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that consume fish.
Certain fish buildup more mercury than others. These levels can be associated with such factors as what the fish eat, how long they live and how high they are in the food chain.
Highly migratory fish species (such as swordfish) can build up more mercury than others as they can swim thousands of miles in their lifespan, therefore accumulating differing mercury levels as they swim through foreign waters and through ocean currents subjecting themselves to varying amounts of toxins.
Fish that live extraordinarily long lives (such as Orange Roughy) can also accumulate comparatively high mercury levels as they simply absorb more over time. Finally, predatory fish that consume other fish bioaccumulate mercury at higher levels than fish who consume solely plankton or microorganisms.
Since the Safe Harbor® certification does not mean that fish known to be higher in mercury are safe for pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and small children, how does a parent really know what is safe?
Unfortunately due to the amount of mercury pollution now present in fish globally, expecting mothers, pregnant women and small children should simply stay away from certain species of fish.
Even though Safe Harbor certifies high risk species such as Swordfish, Shark, King Mackerel, and Tilefish well below the 1.0 ppm action level set by the FDA, for the aforementioned demographics those species are still not considered “safe” for regular consumption. In fact, based on the levels of mercury Safe Harbor has found in some of the aforementioned species (up to 5.0 ppm for certain species), we could not recommend them as safe for any demographic to consume regularly unless it has been tested and the actual mercury concentration of that fish is known.
FDA averages for a species as a whole are inadequate as mercury levels can vary dramatically from fish to fish even in the same species. Each fish must be tested, and at present Safe Harbor is the only company in existence that can uphold such a rigorous screening standard.
What is typically safer: Atlantic Salmon or Pacific Salmon? Why is there a difference?
First off, Salmon on average, and according to the extensive database Safe Harbor maintain,s is very low in mercury. We certify most salmon species at .1 ppm.
That being said, the difference between Pacific Salmon and Atlantic Salmon is simple: Atlantic Salmon is salmon that originated from the Atlantic ocean, and is now commonly “farmed” like aquatic livestock. Most farmed salmon is predominantly of the Atlantic variety. In contrast, Pacific Salmon is salmon that originates from the Pacific Ocean. For the most part, Pacific Salmon is not farmed.
Are there certain products (ex. Chicken of the Sea) that parents should stay away from, for the health of their kids? Are there any that are completely safe and free of mercury?
To reiterate, there is no fish or shellfish that is completely free of mercury. However there are species that contain on average, very low concentrations of mercury. For example Safe Harbor is working with Cobia Farms, a company that specializes in farming ultra clean, sustainable Tilapia. They take drastic measures to ensure the fish they farm are given the purest feed and swim in filtered water completely isolated from the open air where environmental toxins and particles can settle into the water. The mercury level found in their Tilapia is nearly undetectable even with our sophisticated mercury analyzers.
On the other hand, canned tuna (like Chicken of the Sea) is a double-edged sword. It is one of the most heavily consumed fish in the United States due to its protein to fat ratio, affordability and accessibility. However, pure white tuna or albacore can contain moderate to high levels of mercury.
Presently there is a 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals lawsuit against the makers of Chicken of the Sea (Landvik-Fellner vs Tri-Union Seafoods) where Deborah Landvik-Fellner ate Chicken of the Sea tuna everyday for a prolonged period of time and subsequently experienced a multitude of adverse health effects as a result, including hair loss, insomnia, memory loss, slurred speech and fainting. She stopped eating tuna for a year and her symptoms subsided, but not before she took action and filed the lawsuit against Tri-Union Seafoods that is presently in arbitration.
In contrast to albacore, light or chunk light tuna is quite different as this canned product is mostly skipjack, a smaller species of tuna with a lower average mercury concentration. Again, it must be reiterated that the only way to know the exact mercury content of the fish you are consuming is to have it tested.
Once there is a mercury contamination in the body, can it be reversed? Can you detox the body of this metal and if so, how?
Again, it must be reiterated that no one at Safe Harbor is a health professional. However, what is commonly agreed upon in regards to mercury detoxification is that the body does flush toxins and heavy metals such as mercury naturally through fluid discharge (sweat, urine, etc.). However the process can take months even years for someone with extremely high mercury levels (ie, Deborah Landvik-Fellner).
There are other methods available such as the use of various chelating agents that basically speed up the flushing process. However there are potential side effects to using chelating agents that should be discussed with a health professional.
Is there any action parents can take to make mandatory a label stating the mercury levels in the fish we consume?
You can write to your local Congressperson in hopes they take notice of this pressing issue, or contact organizations like Oceana, the Mercury Policy Project and other like-minded non-profits to see what kind of action can be taken on a grassroots level, such as picketing and consumer education efforts.
Unfortunately the FDA simply is not responsive to public inquiries and concerns on this issue, and while the EPA recommends stricter standards and enforcement for mercury in seafood, action on their part is restricted by bureaucracy and red tape.
While at present Safe Harbor does not label the exact mercury content of every fish at the market level, we do guarantee fish bought with a Safe Harbor Certification seal will contain mercury concentrations under our published standards, which are drastically more stringent than the FDA’s 1.0ppm action level, even for high risk species. Consumers can log onto our website and follow the Request Safe Harbor Seafood At Your Local Store link to send an email to local retail seafood managers to prompt them to carry Safe Harbor Certified seafood.
Is it easy to find your seal on fish products?
Our clients, including Bristol Farms in the Los Angeles area and Tops Foods/Haggen’s markets throughout Washington and Oregon strictly label all seafood products tested by our technicians. Our seal can be found on spear tags, promotional advertisements, in-store posters and tri-fold pamphlets in the respective store.
Once a piece of Safe Harbor Certified seafood is purchased, store employees are required to also sticker the packaging the fish is wrapped in to ensure the customer knows they are purchasing a mercury-screened product.
How can mothers find a way to give their children the numerous benefits of fish without the adverse health risks?
By sticking to fish species known to be lower in mercury and that has been certified by Safe Harbor, known to be lower in mercury because it’s been tested.
Quite simply, the FDA cannot be relied upon to screen fish for mercury. Mercury screening is not taking place and the mercury concentrations Safe Harbor has noticed and that our database reflects is a testament to this fact.
In addition, even fish deemed to contain on average lower amounts of mercury (including salmon, catfish, tilapia and trout) can sometimes accumulate mercury concentrations exponentially higher than published averages because of the way mercury builds up in fish.
The only way to enjoy fish and the numerous associated health benefits is to have it tested before consumption and to stick to fish known to bioaccumulate less mercury.
Lowest and Highest Average Levels of Mercury in Fish
When it comes to mercury levels, you may now be asking…….What fish are the safest to consume? What fish are the most contaminated to consume? We have a handy list below, that answers just that!
*LOWEST AVERAGE LEVELS
* Even though these fish on average accumulate “lower” mercury levels, these species can still accumulate respectively high mercury levels in some cases. For example, according to our data the average mercury level found in trout is .05 ppm, well below the 1.0 ppm action level set by the FDA. However, in the course of the roughly 150,000 tests MASI/Safe Harbor has conducted on fish, we have seen trout with as much as .911 ppm. While the above mentioned species contain on average low mercury levels, the only way to know is to test the fish.
HIGHEST AVERAGE LEVELS
A Little More About Safe Harbor®Micro Analytical Systems, Inc. (MASI) has developed an exclusive technology for testing seafood for its mercury concentration and offers the Safe Harbor brand of mercury tested seafood to allow consumers to make informed choices about the seafood they choose to eat. Our machines are extremely accurate and sensitive to 10 ppb Hg (parts per billion mercury content) and can handle virtually any production volume in almost any environment. To date, MASI has already conducted nearly 130,000 tests on seafood to determine its mercury concentration—more than any other company or government in the world. Simply put, we have more data and a unique insight into the mercury in seafood contamination issue that no other government or private entity in the world can claim. We have expressed our willingness to make our technology available to both the state of California and the FDA. Our offer in this regard was made in a letter to Assistant Deputy District Attorney General Ed Weil and a meeting was held in the Washington, D.C. area with the Assistant FDA Commissioner for Food Safety. The FDA was not interested in expanding its testing protocol and no response has been received from the AG’s office. Not the most reassuring response from our federal and state governments.
A special thank you to Chris Hodge for his time with SAFbaby. We appreciate your expertise and great work.