Vermont group finds high mercury levels in canned tuna

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(Host) A Vermont-based environmental group says there are high levels of mercury found in certain kinds of canned tuna. The Mercury Policy Project in Montpelier tested white albacore tuna and found some samples had mercury at levels above federal safety standards.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The high levels of mercury were found in canned food made from albacore tuna. The tuna is often label as white tuna, says Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project. He says the albacore is a larger fish, and thus probably absorbs more mercury. Bender says he was surprised to see the elevated mercury levels in the test results.

(Bender) “First of all, we’re concerned about reducing human exposure to mercury and one of the most consumed seafoods in the United States is canned tuna. The other reason we’re concerned about canned tuna is because it’s the most popular fish – in some cases the only fish – that children will eat, and the only fish that pregnant women eat and those two population are the most susceptible to methyl mercury exposure risk.”

(Dillon) According to Bender, mercury is a potent toxin that can damage growing nervous systems.

The white albacore tuna tested by the policy project averaged .5 parts per million of mercury. By comparison, the light tuna – the kind made from smaller fish – averaged point .12 parts per million.

Bender says the Food and Drug Administration needs to do more testing to make sure the popular food is safe.

(Bender) “We put out a report five years ago noting that the FDA had stopped testing for canned tuna and other seafood, and we’ve been asking them to test ever since. And their own Food Safety Committee has asked them to test as well.”

(Dillon) Manmade mercury enters the environment from coal fired power plants. The metal concentrates in larger fish as it moves up the food chain.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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