FDA and mercury - best friends

The Tribune is polishing their Pulitzer again: more tales of FDA 'wink-and-nod' corruption and collusion with the fishing industry.

FDA tests show risk in tuna
U.S. agency finds high mercury levels in some cans and in samples of Chilean sea bass

Newly released government data provide the best evidence to date that some cans of light tuna--one of America's favorite seafoods--contain high levels of mercury.

Just how much mercury might be in a single can of tuna is unclear. That is because the FDA does not test individual cans. Instead, it removes small pieces of tissue from 12 cans and mixes the tissue together. The agency then tests the mixture, masking any extreme amounts of mercury in a single can. This is done with other fish species as well

In the FDA's recent testing, one sample of light tuna showed mercury levels of 0.72 parts per million--a high amount but still within the 1.0 legal limit. But because this result was a composite of 12 cans, it is likely that some of the individual cans had higher levels.

It is impossible to know whether one of those cans tested over the legal limit.

The FDA said it tests a mixture of cans rather than individual cans partly to save money.

“It would cost 12 times as much to test 12 separate cans and then average the data, which is what we would have to do,” said the FDA official who requested anonymity.

That methodology troubles some doctors.

“I find that incredibly disturbing,” said Jane Hightower, a San Francisco internist who treats patients with mercury-related ailments. “That is falsifying data as far as I am concerned.”

Hightower also said the FDA should do a better job of informing consumers about high mercury levels in Chilean sea bass and other fish.

“This information should be made available to the public in a user-friendly format and not buried in the depths of an Internet Web site,” she said.


The FDA also found high mercury levels in samples of Chilean sea bass, which is often sold in high-end restaurants. Previously, the FDA had tested only one sample of the fish. High levels were detected in big-eye tuna, a species sold as ahi tuna and served in sushi.

No federal warnings exist for either fish, even though the average mercury level detected in the FDA tests was above the average in albacore tuna, which the government tells pregnant women and young children to limit eating.

In all, the FDA released testing results for more than 25 kinds of fish, sampled between 2001 and 2005. The findings were not released until now partly because the analysis wasn't complete, the agency said.

While a few species, such as tuna and Chilean sea bass (also known as Patagonian toothfish), were tested frequently in the latest round of sampling, many were not. Only one catfish, one flatfish, two mahi-mahi, four crabs and seven sardines were tested, the FDA data show.

On Thursday, the agency said it would not take any action based on its newly released results, which come at a time when the FDA has been under fire for not adequately policing mercury in seafood, particularly canned light tuna. Most light tuna is made with skipjack, a relatively low-mercury species. But a Tribune investigative series recently reported that the U.S. tuna industry often uses a high-mercury species, yellowfin, to make some cans of light tuna.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on January 27, 2006 8:40 AM.

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