Tuna is a tasty, high-protein, low-fat food and it can even be prepared in recipes that kids like. But a new report finds that children may be at more risk from mercury in tuna than had previously been thought.
The report (PDF copy here), co-released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Physicians for Social Responsibility, Safe Minds, and several other groups, advises schools and parents not to serve any albacore tuna to kids and to limit consumption of light tuna to twice a month for most kids and only once a month for smaller children (under 55 pounds).
The study by the Mercury Policy Project contains the first-ever test results of canned tuna sold to schools. Â It also notes that new studies have found adverse effects of tuna consumption at lower levels than expected.
"Most children are already consuming only modest amounts of tuna and are not at significant risk," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. "So the focus really needs to be on kids who eat tuna often, to limit their mercury exposure by offering them lower-mercury seafood or other nutritious alternatives."
"Fish, including tuna, is generally a nutritious part ofÂ a healthy diet," said Sarah Klein, staff attorney in the Food Safety program at CSPI. "But especially for our littlest, most vulnerable children, we have to make sure the risks from mercury in tuna don't outweigh tuna's benefits. We're urging parents and schools to limit children's tuna consumption and, when they do serve it, to choose lower-mercury options."
Not a low-mercury fish
"As the report states, light tuna has one-third as much mercury as albacore does," added Eric Uram of Safe Minds. "But contrary to the current Federal fish consumption advisory, it is definitely not a low-mercury fish."
The report points out that canned tuna is by far the largest source of methylmercury in the U.S. diet and accounts for nearly one-third of Americans' total exposure to this toxic mercury compound.
MPP tested the mercury content of 59 samples, representing eight brands of tuna, sold to schools in 11 states around the country.
"As far as we know, no one has previously tested this market sector," said Bender. Testing showed that the tuna contains mercury levels similar to what other investigations have found in canned tuna sold in supermarkets. Albacore or "white" tuna had much higher mercury levels than did "light" tuna, and mercury levels in both types were highly variable.
Canned tuna is inexpensive and nutritious, a low-fat protein source, and a popular lunch food for kids. American kids eat twice as much tuna as they do any other kind of fish, and one out of every six U.S. seafood meals is canned tuna. A tuna sandwich is an easy-to-fix parental favorite, and canned tuna is served through the federally subsidized school lunch program. And schools may be switching to leaner protein sources this fall as they implement theÂ new school lunch standards.
The report offers these recommendations (among others):