« July 2006 Table of Contents
Tuna industry, scientists blast Consumer Reports
- James Wright
July 01, 2006
An article in this month's issue of Consumer Reports
recommends that pregnant women avoid eating canned tuna. The
magazine, which has a circulation of 4 million and reaches
millions more with its Web site, www.consumerreports.org, went
even further by recommending that young children limit their
Immediately after the article "Mercury in tuna, new safety
concerns" hit newsstands, the U.S. tuna industry fired back,
decrying the magazine's "disservice" to consumers in presenting
unsubstantiated information about methylmercury in canned tuna
and other seafood.
Anne Forristall Luke, president of the U.S. Tuna Foundation,
and others promptly discredited the Consumer Reports
"The guidance of the respected scientific, health and
nutrition experts gets short shrift, and an American public in
dire need of a healthier diet gets short-changed as a result,"
"In an era when heart disease is spiraling and obesity has
become an epidemic, Consumer Reports has done a great
disservice in discouraging consumption of canned tuna through
inaccurate and incomplete facts."
The article states that, after analyzing Food and Drug
Administration data, canned light tuna "sometimes harbors as
much" mercury as white tuna, or albacore, and that the FDA
should "strengthen its advice to vulnerable groups" such as
pregnant women and children.
Consumer Reports says that most of the FDA-tested light-tuna
samples contained, on average, only a third as much mercury as
white tuna, but that 6 percent of the samples contained as much
or twice as much mercury than the average albacore samples.
Further, canned light tuna may contain yellowfin tuna, which
tends to have higher levels of mercury than skipjack tuna, the
species typically found in cans of light tuna, according to the
The FDA's reply was swift. Responding to multiple inquiries
about its 2004 joint consumer advisory with the Environmental
Protection Agency, "What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish
and Shellfish," the agency retained its original recommendation
that pregnant women, nursing mothers, women of childbearing age
and young children keep canned tuna as part of their diets.
"Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet
and can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth
and development," the FDA noted.
The agency reiterated that pregnant women and children
should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish
because of elevated levels of methylmercury often found in
David Acheson, M.D., the chief medical officer at the FDA's
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, was quoted in the
Consumer Reports article as saying, "If you eat a single can of
something that's a little higher than the average, it's not
going to do any acute harm."
The FDA restated its original recommendation that consumers
should eat up to 12 ounces, or two average meals a week, of
fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp,
canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.
The Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit Washington,
D.C., organization, says the magazine should "leave food policy
to actual experts like those at the FDA." The scientific
community also criticized the
"This story by Consumer Reports makes sweeping and
potentially damaging claims without subjecting its findings to
serious scientific review," says Dr. Louis Sullivan, former
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. "Canned tuna is an
excellent source of protein that has the added benefits of
including high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that are
recognized as having multiple health attributes. Scaring
consumers away from this healthy food choice is
- James Wright