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FDA fish warning criticized

The Food and Drug Administration recommends pregnant women to avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, tuna steaks, sea bass, Gulf Coast oysters, marlin, halibut, pike, walleye, white croaker, and largemouth bass. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends pregnant women and young children to eat only small amounts of fresh-caught fish once a week. Under industry pressure, the Food and Drug Administration softened its warning to pregnant women about the dangers of mercury in some fish, notably tuna.//

According to a report, 60,000 women nationwide are putting their fetuses "at risk" of brain damage because of mercury in the fish they eat. Last year, the FDA warned pregnant women not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish. But the agency said they could eat up to 12 ounces of any fish weekly.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an organization best known for raising concerns about pesticides, obtained 1,036 pages of FDA transcripts from focus group meetings with consumers conducted 2 years ago to test safety messages about mercury and fish. Some women in the focus groups said they ate a can of tuna daily while pregnant. Of the five most popular seafoods - shrimp, trout, salmon and catfish are the others - only tuna has worrisome mercury levels.

A tuna industry spokesman denied that the industry influenced the FDA's advisory. "Plenty of people, pediatricians, consumer groups, met with the agency on this issue besides us," says Randi Thomas of the U.S. Tuna Foundation.

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