FDA, EPA Issue New Seafood Guidelines for Pregnant Women and Children
Federal officials announced today major changes in advice to pregnant and breastfeeding women by recommending consumption of at least eight ounces of low-mercury fish per week.
It is the first time that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued recommendations on the minimum amount of fish that pregnant women and children should eat. The previous advisory, issued in 2004, included only maximum amounts to protect their fetuses and young children from mercury, which can harm developing brains and reduce IQs.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
“Eating fish with lower levels of mercury provides numerous health and dietary benefits,” Nancy Stoner, the EPA's acting assistant administrator for the Office of Water, said in a statement. “This updated advice will help pregnant women and mothers make informed decisions about the right amount and right kinds of fish to eat during important times in their lives and their children’s lives.”
Under the long-awaited, proposed new guidelines, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to eat a minimum of eight ounces and no more than 12 ounces of fish with low levels of methylmercury, including shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod. That is equivalent to two or three fish servings per week. Young children, according to the advisory, also should have two or three servings of low-mercury fish per week.
As in the old recommendations, pregnant and nursing women and young children are advised to avoid four high-mercury fish: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish and king mackerel.
The agencies also reiterated their specific recommendations for limits on albacore (or white) tuna: no more than six ounces a week. Advice about consumption of tuna has been highly controversial, with the fishing industry criticizing any limits and health advocacy groups pushing for the FDA and EPA to add it to the list of fish to avoid.
When asked about high levels of mercury in light tuna, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the FDA's chief scientist, said during a call to reporters that the agencies included only four fish on the "do not eat" list because "they have consistently shown higher levels of methylmercury.
“We will continue to look at levels of methylmercury in a variety of fish and in the future make recommendations about other fish as well,” Dr. Ostroff said.
Orange roughy and marlin also have slightly higher concentrations than most fish, added Elizabeth Southerland, EPA’s director of the Office of Science and Technology. She said the agencies are asking the public to comment on whether those fish should be added to the list of fish to avoid.
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the FDA and EPA earlier this year, saying that the 2004 advisory was out of date and that women should be advised to eat less mercury-contaminated fish. They also are seeking clearer recommendations and labels that are easier for women to understand. EPA and FDA officials on Tuesday declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Environmentalists said today they were disappointed by the proposed changes, mostly because of the lack of warning labels on canned tuna.
"Over one-third of American's exposure to methylmercury is from tuna, because tuna are higher-mercury fish and Americans consume so much," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. "Albacore 'white' canned tuna generally has three times as much mercury as 'light' tuna. However, Americans consume about three times as much of the light variety. Therefore, each variety—'white' and 'light'—contributes a staggering 16 percent of Americans' dietary exposure."
Representatives of the fish industry lauded the new advice, saying it “clears the water on outdated seafood guidance for pregnant and breastfeeding women.”
“FDA is working to translate years of important nutrition science into updated advice, and that’s exciting,” said Jennifer McGuire of the National Fisheries Institute, which represents seafood companies including Gorton’s Inc. and Bumble Bee Foods. “Expectant moms and health professionals alike have been confused about seafood advice during pregnancy and FDA has begun the process of setting the record straight that fish should be a pregnancy staple.”
The advice can be confusing, since studies have found both benefits and dangers to eating fish. Studies have linked pregnant women’s high mercury consumption in seafood to reduced IQs and memories and other neurological effects in their children. The findings are largely based on two decades of tests of school children in the Faroe Islands, who were highly exposed in the womb through their mother's consumption of whale meat.
At the same time, research has shown that fish consumption provides vital nutrients, Omega-3 fatty acids and protein, for fetal brain growth, and that children's IQs increase when their mothers had eaten low-mercury fish.
“We don’t think women would accrue the same benefits in terms of health and development if they were to use supplements in place of fish,” Dr. Ostroff said.
FDA officials said their analysis of data from more than 1,000 pregnant women found that 21 percent ate no fish in the previous month. Those who did ate less than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend.
Before finalizing the rules, the two agencies plan to hold public meetings and will solicit comments for 30 days.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It is home to more than 7% of all the world's plant and animal species, many of which are endemic. One such species, the Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee, was recently rediscovered after spending nearly 100 years out of sight from humans.
Scientists have newly photographed three species of shark that can glow in the dark, according to a study published in Frontiers in Marine Science last month.
- 10 Little-Known Shark Facts - EcoWatch ›
- 4 New Walking Shark Species Discovered - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Incredible Species That Glow in the Dark - EcoWatch ›
FedEx's entire parcel pickup and delivery fleet will become 100 percent electric by 2040, according to a statement released Wednesday. The ambitious plan includes checkpoints, such as aiming for 50 percent electric vehicles by 2025.
- Which Is Worse for the Planet: Beef or Cars? - EcoWatch ›
- Greenhouse Gas Levels Hit Record High Despite Lockdowns, UN ... ›
- 1.8 Billion Tons More Greenhouse Gases Will Be Released, Thanks ... ›