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Too Much Mercury in Canned Tuna -- Or Is There?
Date:2/12/2010

iffer on one significant issue: standards for how much mercury is safe for tuna to contain in the first place.

The FDA sets a standard of no more than 1.0 parts per million (ppm) of mercury for commercially caught fish. Most of the tuna sold in U.S. grocery stores is commercially caught and therefore subject to the FDA standards.

The EPA, meanwhile, as part of its jurisdiction over the nation's lakes and streams, regulates sport or recreational fishing. The EPA sets a more stringent standard of no more than 0.5 ppm of mercury.

So which standard should consumers pay attention to?

"The EPA has done a great deal of work in evaluating exposures," Gerstenberger said. "I'm not saying the FDA hasn't, but it's hard to make a case that who catches the fish should determine the standard. We feel we would rather err on the side of safety and look at the lower standard."

The National Fisheries Institute, however, took issue with that conclusion. Trace amounts of mercury found in some tuna don't outweigh the health benefits of eating it, said Gavin Gibbons, director of media relations for the National Fisheries Institute, a trade association that represents commercial fishermen, producers, restaurants and processors.

Much of the mercury found in the oceans where tuna is caught is naturally occurring. Prime sources are mineral deposits, underwater vents or volcanoes.

The EPA's main concern is about what's released into the nation's lakes and streams because of industrial or other human activity, and it has low tolerance for polluters, Gibbons said.

"Commercial and sport-caught fish are very distinct, and the level of mercury that's permitted is different," Gibbons said. "The FDA looks at the effect of mercury on the human body, while the EPA's standard is based on its regulatory power over utilities and the environment. They are not regulating for consumption reasons but for environmental health."'/>"/>

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