Consumer Reports magazine has gone back to the tired old narrative of warning Americans about vanishingly low levels of mercury in canned tuna. “Canned tuna, especially white,” the magazine’s January issue declares, “tends to be high in mercury, and younger women and children should limit how much they eat.”
Why the strong warnings? CR tested a whopping 42 cans of tuna to find out what the Food and Drug Administration already knows: Tuna is actually low in mercury—so low, in fact, that nothing in the magazine’s tests suggests that tuna’s mercury levels hit one-tenth of what the FDA says might be cause for concern.
Consumer Reports, however, chose sensationalism over science. And their resulting advice is so ridiculous that even they won’t follow it themselves.
In an online feature about New York holiday parties, MediaPost reports that CR's wingding included something curious:
Consumer Reports … welcomed the holiday season with open arms and spicy tuna tartare …
Maybe CR’s editors understand what its science writers clearly don’t. For instance:
· None of the tuna samples tested by Consumer Reports exceeded the FDA’s “Action level” for mercury. The highest quantity found was about 77 percent of that level, which the FDA says was “established to limit consumers’ methyl mercury exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects.” (The average mercury levels in CR’s tiny sample of canned light tuna was actually lower than the average found by the FDA.)
· CR repeatedly mentions the FDA in its analysis, but then uses EPA standards instead when deciding whether to declare tuna a “do not eat” food. The FDA deals with food. The EPA deals with squares on the Periodic Table of the Elements. And its entire rationale for limiting seafood consumption is based on studies where people ate pilot whale meat, not fish. Whale can be up to 100 times more contaminated than fish. (The EPA’s standards, like the FDA’s have a ten-fold safety cushion built-in, which Consumer Reports chose to ignore.)
· CR advises pregnant women to cut tuna out of their diet, which would dramatically reduce low-income women's consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are crucial for pregnant women who want to deliver healthy babies. A single can of albacore tuna contains 293 percent of the recommended daily intake of omega-3s. The biggest study of its kind found that women who eat more seafood have smarter children. It's brain food, after all.
For more information about the health benefits of tuna and other fish, check out our seafood calculator at HowMuchFish.com. Or just stop by the next Consumer Reports party for a taste. The word on the street is that their yellowfin sashimi is the best in town.