Hot tuna

The government says it's OK for pregnant women to consume some canned tuna. Consumer Reports disagrees.

Published June 8, 2006 12:00PM (EDT)

As a result of the big mercury scare of the last few years, pregnant (and, er, pre-pregnant) women have been warned off albacore tuna, with the FDA and EPA recommending that women who are trying to become pregnant, are pregnant or are nursing consume no more than six ounces of albacore a week. (In case you've missed the furor, mercury is a neurotoxin that's bad for adults and worse for fetuses, and can leave infants with brain damage even if their mothers have never experienced any mercury-related side effects. Eating fish and shellfish is the main way people are exposed to mercury.) Canned light tuna, on the other hand, was determined to carry less mercury, and government advisories said pregnant and nursing women could safely consume 12 ounces a week.

But wait! says the most recent issue of Consumer Reports. Since government tests have shown that cans of light tuna can pack as much mercury as regular albacore, it's safer to avoid canned tuna altogether. "Consumer Reports said 6 percent of canned light tuna tested by the FDA 'contained at least as much of the metal -- in some cases more than twice as much -- as the average albacore,'" Reuters reported earlier this week. (The article did clarify that "Most of the cans had only one-third as much mercury," as regular albacore.)

Obviously, the Consumer Reports recommendation is more conservative than the government's, and predictably, the tuna lobby is pissed. According to Reuters, "The U.S. Tuna Foundation trade group said the magazine was overreacting to a minor problem." Still, after reading up on the mercury-related malaise of Broadsheet's own Katharine Mieszkowski last year -- wherein Katharine got her mercury reading down to a safe level, but gave up tuna entirely to do it -- I'm inclined to get my omega-3s elsewhere. Hasta la vista, tuna melt.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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