Mother Jones Takes on Toxic Tuna


Photo: PA via The Sydney Morning Herald

We've been hearing about excessive mercury levels in tuna for years and the Sept/Oct 2008 issue of Mother Jones explains their take on Why Mercury Tuna Is Still Legal. Stephanie Mencimer outlines several examples where the tuna industry has influenced FDA decisions to leave tuna off the consumer watch lists for mercury toxicity.

Tuna is big business, Mencimer write,

Americans eat nearly three pounds of canned tuna per capita every year, making it the nation's second most popular seafood (behind shrimp). The government promotes it via school lunch programs, wic (the federal food program for poor women and children), and even in the fda and US Department of Agriculture dietary recommendations. It's a staple of low-carb diets. Bodybuilders binge on it. Low in fat, high in protein, canned tuna contains lots of omega-3 fatty acids that are thought to protect against heart disease and boost brain development early in life. Some tuna cans come stamped with the American Heart Association seal of approval.

The industry claims that these scientifically proven health benefits of consuming tuna outweigh any cases of mercury toxicity in people who eat tuna. National Fisheries Institute spokesman Gavin Gibbons states,

it is irresponsible to perpetuate anecdotal tales of high seafood consumption causing health concerns when those types of stories contradict published science showing the health benefits of eating fish at least twice per week.

Sounds like a well rehearsed PR line, but the quote-of-the-story comes from tuna industry promoter Dr. Lillian Beard who wrote in Pediatric News that parents should give children "a little warm milk or tuna fish before bedtime" to help make them sleepy. Mercury aside, I don't think I'll try that on my three year old.

But, industry PR aside, the most telling part of this story focuses on tuna industry tactics when consumer launch "toxic tort" cases. Tuna lawyers have successfully argued that federal regulations and conversely lack of regulations preempt any laws that would hold the industry accountable for their lack of disclosure for the possibility of mercury poisoning from eating their product.

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Tags: Diseases | Fish | Fishing | Food Safety | Oceans | Toxins