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More than likely, you should be eating more fish. The advisory issued by FDA and EPA is only or pregnant and nursing women, women who might become pregnant and young children. Most Americans and pregnant women alike still don’t get enough fish in their diets weekly to be worried about exceeding 12 ounces.
For the rest of the U.S., population - such as men of any age and women who do not plan to become pregnant or are past childbearing age - the government and public health groups are advising people to eat more fish, not less. This is especially true for canned tuna, which is an excellent and affordable source of lean protein and certain essential vitamins and minerals. Canned tuna is also heart-healthy because it contains omega-3 fatty acids that help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. For these reasons, health experts, including the American Dietetic Association and the American Heart Association, recommend eating 2 to 3 servings of a variety of seafood weekly, including canned tuna.
No. Studies find that the amount of mercury in canned tuna has not increased in the last 25 years. In fact, a Princeton University study, funded by EPA, compared mercury concentrations in yellowfin tuna caught off the coast of Hawaii in 1998 with the amount of mercury in yellowfin tuna caught in the same area in 1971. That study found no increase in mercury levels.
How much seafood does the average American eat in a year, and what percentage represents canned tuna?
In 2007, seafood industry analyst H.M. Johnson and Associates reported that the average person consumed 16.3 pounds of commercial fish and shellfish, down from 16.5 pounds in 2006. Canned tuna represented about 17 percent of total fish consumption in 2007.
Also, canned tuna may be packed in water (the most popular option) or oil. Chunk light meat in water is the most popular light meat pack. Albacore, which is the only tuna species that can be called "white," is packed almost exclusively in water in solid form.
Besides being high in protein and low in fat, canned tuna is contains two essential omega-3 fatty acids - DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) - that are especially important during pregnancy. According to numerous studies, DHA comprises approximately 40 percent of the polyunsaturated fatty acid content in the cell membranes in the brain and is transferred from mother to the fetus at a high rate during the last trimester of pregnancy. Along with DHA, the developing fetus uses EPA for the growth of the brain and the developing nervous system.
Of the top 10 most commonly consumed fish in this country, salmon and canned albacore tuna have the highest levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA - according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutritional Database.
Absolutely! Not only is canned tuna completely safe but it is also one of the healthiest foods that a growing child can eat. Tuna is an excellent source of protein and is easily digestible by young children. Canned tuna is also low in fat and calories, contains essential vitamins and minerals and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids - which are especially important during early childhood for eye and brain development.
Besides all these health benefits, canned tuna is a "kid friendly" food that is tasty and adaptable to many different meal options. For these reasons, the FDA and EPA both encourage moms to serve fish, including canned tuna, to children on a weekly basis.
Consumers can buy both light and albacore tuna in two forms: "solid" where a portion of the fish is cut to fit the can and packaged in one layer; and "chunk" where the can contains a mixture of cut pieces of varying sizes.
Almost all ocean fish and seafood naturally contain minute amounts of methylmercury, due in part to underwater volcanic activity. But the amount in light canned tuna is exceedingly low. In fact, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new advice about the best ways to limit methylmercury in the diet, FDA and EPA listed light canned tuna as one of the commonly eaten fish that contains very low levels of mercury.
Although canned albacore tuna contains somewhat more mercury than canned light tuna, the amount is still very low and well below government standards. That is why the new government advisory tells pregnant women that they can safely eat up to 6 ounces of albacore tuna in a week. In general, there are 2 ounces of canned albacore in a typical serving.
Tuna may be frozen in a freezer bag or air-tight container. We do not recommend the product be left in the can or pouch.
The FDA/EPA seafood advisory is based on a 10-fold safety factor, meaning that if pregnant and nursing women follow this advice, they will be consuming minute levels of mercury in fish that are at least ten times lower than the lowest level for any known risk. This level is the most conservative of any country in the world.
On March 19, 2004, FDA and EPA issued a joint advisory intended only for pregnant women and nursing women, women who might become pregnant and young children. The advisory states upfront that the nutritional benefits of fish – such as tuna – are very important for mothers and that they should include seafood as part of a healthy diet. It states: "…women and young children in particular should include fish and shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits."
To help pregnant women and moms choose fish that are low in mercury, FDA and EPA have identified 5 commonly served fish with very low mercury levels: shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish and canned light tuna. According to the government's advisory, pregnant and nursing women, women who might become pregnant and young children can safely eat up to 12 ounces of these fish each week.
The government advisory also tells these special groups that they can safely eat up to 6 ounces a week of canned albacore tuna per week as part of their total portion of 12 ounces. In general, there are 2 ounces of albacore in a typical serving.
However, the advisory also identifies four less commonly eaten fish pregnant and nursing women, women who might become pregnant and young children avoid. These fish are shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel.
There is a growing body of research that links the omega-3 fatty acids found in canned tuna and other fatty fish with optimal brain function and cognition and improved eye and skin health. Moreover, studies show that these omega-3 fatty acids are protective against certain cancers and have a therapeutic effect on depression and specific autoimmune diseases including lupus, psoriasis and arthritis.
Canned tuna is also one of the best sources of selenium, which research suggests promotes sound health and may reduce cancer risk.
The American Heart Association (AHA) Dietary Guidelines includes a recommendation that people eat fish (including canned tuna) for heart health benefits. Specifically, the AHA says, "At least 2 servings of fish per week are recommended to confer cardio-protective effects." The guidelines also mention the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids in fresh and canned tuna on other diseases such as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
At the same time, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends eating 2-3 fish meals per week, and points to fish as a low-fat source of protein that may help lower cholesterol. In addition, the Association says that research shows a number of benefits from consuming omega-3 fatty acids, found mainly in fatty, cold water fish like tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel and lake trout. According to the ADA, omega-3 fatty acids help make the blood less sticky, so it flows through blood vessels more easily and is less likely to form clots, which can contribute to heart attacks and strokes.
Additionally, the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 - issued in January 2005 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) - encourages consumers to eat two eight-ounce servings each week of foods, such as canned tuna, that are rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Based on an extensive review of the science, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded that higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are associated with the reduced risk of both sudden death and death from coronary heart disease in adults. Specifically, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee estimates a 30 percent reduction in the risk of coronary deaths with the increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
There are four main methods used in commercial tuna fishing – purse seining, long lining, pole and line fishing and trolling. Purse seining is the most common. As of 2009, more than 60% of tuna are caught by the purse seine method.
For more information about how each of these fishing methods works, visit the Responsible Fishing page here.
Canned and pouched tuna may be safely stored for several years (no longer than 4 for cans and 3 for pouches) as long as the container is not bulged, damaged, leaking or has been stored in normal conditions. However, generally speaking, the longer the product has been stored, the less fresh it may taste.
According to seafood industry analyst H. M. Johnson and Associates, U.S. per capita consumption of canned tuna in 2007 was 2.7 pounds. That is the equivalent of about 7 cans of tuna per person on average.
Canned tuna contains minute amounts of methylmercury. According to surveys conducted by FDA, canned light tuna has an average of 0.12 parts per million (ppm) and canned albacore tuna has an average of 0.35 ppm. To put these amounts into perspective, FDA has set a limit of 1.00 ppm for mercury in fish - and both canned light and albacore tuna are well below this level.
Nearly all fish contain trace amounts of methylmercury but in most cases, the levels are very low and not harmful to humans. However, FDA and EPA caution pregnant and nursing women, women who might become pregnant and young children not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because these fish contain higher than recommended levels of methylmercury. To be on the safe side, FDA and EPA also recommend that these special groups should only eat one meal a week of fish from fresh water lakes and streams that has been caught by friends or family.
As of 2009, catches of the four principal market species of tuna – skipjack, yellowfin, albacore and bigeye - have been hovering between 4 and 4.5 million tons annually worldwide during the last several years.
Skipjack, the primary species for canned and pouched tuna, makes up 60% of this catch, followed by yellowfin (24%), bigeye (10%), and albacore (5%).
No. Overall, worldwide tuna stocks are strong, especially for the main species used in canned and pouched tuna – skipjack and albacore.
Some stocks are being closely monitored and managed, however, to bring them back to their maximum sustainable yield. These include the north Atlantic albacore and the Pacific bigeye. Bluefin tuna is also being closely monitored, but it is not used in any products including canned tuna by members of the Tuna Council including Bumble Bee®, Chicken of the Sea® and StarKist®.
No. Most men would benefit from adding more fish to their diet. This is because fish, such as canned tuna, is high in protein, low in fat and helps lower the risk of heart disease and other health problems.
Health experts, including the American Dietetic Association and the American Heart Association, recommend eating 2 to 3 servings of a variety of seafood weekly, including canned tuna.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that occur predominantly in oily, deep-sea saltwater fish – such as tuna. Tuna is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids.
These fatty acids appear to have a positive effect on heart rhythm and may even reduce the incidence of the most common type of stroke. In fact, based on current research, omega-3 may reduce the risk of heart disease. Further research shows it may also have a role in preventing macular degeneration, a common form of blindness, and is important for proper fetal neurodevelopment.
As a pregnant or nursing woman, shouldn't I just play it safe and not eat fish during this period?
The nutrients in tuna and other fish – such as omega-3 fatty acids - are essential for both your health and for the proper development of your child’s brain and other tissues. The real question is what you give up when if you avoid tuna or other seafood during pregnancy. The science suggests you trade off giving your baby the best head start possible.
Why? Canned tuna and many other oily, ocean fish contains DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for the healthy development of the fetus and young child. According to scientific studies, DHA comprises approximately 40 percent of the polyunsaturated fatty acid content in the cell membranes in the brain and 60 percent of the cell membranes in the retina and is transferred from mother to the fetus at a high rate during the last trimester of pregnancy. Our bodies don’t make omega-3s and so we need to eat foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fish is by far the best food source.
It is because fish is so important to a pregnant and nursing woman's diet that FDA and EPA issued their new seafood advisory, which tells them how to receive the benefits of fish while reducing their exposure to mercury levels. According to the government advisory: "Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet... So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits."
Nobody in the United States has ever experienced mercury poisoning from normal fish eating. Health experts, including the American Dietetic Association and the American Heart Association, recommend eating 2 to 3 servings of a variety of seafood weekly, including canned tuna.
In fact, Americans only eat 1/3 of the recommended amount of fish suggested annually for good health let alone increase their risk for mercury toxicity.
Worldwide, four cases of mercury poisoning involving massive, accidental industrial contamination occurred more than thirty years ago in other countries.
During the 1950s, 111 people from Minamata City, Japan died or experienced neurological disorders from eating fish contaminated with very high concentrations of methylmercury - up to 40 parts per million (compared to FDA's limit of 1 ppm). In this case, an industrial facility was releasing manufactured methylmercury directly into Minamata Bay. A second incidence in 1965 occurred in Niigata, Japan where 120 people were similarly poisoned.
The other two incidents involved people in Iraq who ate bread from grain that was contaminated with a fungicide containing mercury. Here, the people were exposed to even higher levels of mercury than in Japan and thousands were hospitalized.
These serious accidents are often used in the media to cite the potential risks of mercury but are not representative of mercury associated with normal fish consumption.
After opening, remaining tuna should be placed in a separate sealed container (not the can or the pouch) and immediately refrigerated. The product should be used within 3-4 days. Tuna may be frozen in a freezer bag or plastic container – but do not freeze tuna while still in the can.
Americans, on average, consume less than 4 lbs of tuna a year per capita. That amount of tuna – which represents typical consumption for the average American – doesn't even come close to containing the amount of mercury that could potentially be ingested to reach what scientists call the "no observed adverse effect level" - or the level linked to adverse health effects. This is also true in countries like Japan, where consumers eat significantly more tuna and other kinds of ocean fish.
The Tuna Council represents the leading U.S. canned tuna processors speaking for the tuna industry on numerous issues from fishing access arrangements and federal and state regulations, to sustainability and domestic marketing. These companies include Bumble Bee®, Chicken of the Sea® and StarKist®.
Working individually and also by participating in organizations such as ISSF and RFMOs, America’s tuna companies have taken many concrete actions in support of sustainable fishing including:
- calling for fishing moratoriums to help replenish stocks
- investing in research on new fishing technologies to reduce by-catch and protect marine life
- developing and embracing industry standards for sourcing only legally caught and reported tuna
The “dolphin safe” program was begun in the early 1990s. Dolphin safe methods prohibit the encirclement of dolphins during tuna fishing and use special release procedures that allow dolphins to swim free should they accidentally get into a net.
All three of the major U.S. tuna brands require certification from their raw tuna suppliers documenting their tuna is caught in association with the dolphin safe guidelines. Consumers can check packaging labels for the ‘dolphin safe’ symbol to verify that no dolphins have been endangered in the catching of their tuna.
Learn more about the dolphin safe program here.
The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) is a global partnership of eminent marine scientists, tuna industry leaders and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the global conservation organization, committed to the science-based conservation and management of tuna and the protection of our oceans.
Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) describes the largest average catch or yield that can continuously be taken from a stock under existing environmental conditions. When a stock is at or above MSY levels, fishing of the stock is occurring at a sustainable rate.
Mercury is a basic element found in the earth’s crust that occurs naturally in air and water. It is also a by-product of certain industrial processes. In nature, mercury is emitted into the atmosphere through soil erosion, volcanoes and forest fires. In seawater, the source is usually underwater volcanoes.
According to scientific estimates, the majority of the mercury released into the environment comes from natural sources.
When people talk about exposure to ‘mercury’ in fish, they’re actually referring to methylmercury. Methylmercury is formed when mercury gets into water bodies – whether by natural processes or pollution - where it is converted into an organic compound through the actions of bacteria. Fish ingest and absorb methylmercury in minute quantities by feeding on organisms living in water where it is present. Methylmercury has always been in oceans, so minute amounts of methylmercury have been present in every fish ever eaten by humans.
In small amounts, methylmercury is not harmful to humans. Only at very high exposure levels is it toxic. The key healthy concern regarding methylmercury is that it may harm an unborn baby's or young child's developing nervous system if pregnant and nursing women consume large amounts of fish containing high levels of methylmercury.
To safeguard the public, the federal government has put in place very stringent restrictions, including issuing advice for pregnant and nursing women and women who may become pregnant about the best ways to add fish to their diets. This advice is very conservative and builds in a 10-fold safety factor - so that no on is at risk of exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.
Additionally, a twenty year scientific study of mothers and children living in the Seychelles islands off the coast of Madagascar found that moderate fish consumption by mothers is not harmful to the fetus – and the mothers in this study ate 10 times more fish, on average, than mothers in America.
Tuna is fished in oceanic waters throughout the globe, except the polar seas. More than 70 countries worldwide fish tuna, but the majority of the tuna supply comes from the Pacific Ocean.
As of 2009, about 65% of the global tuna catch comes from the Pacific Ocean, 26% percent from the Indian Ocean, and the remaining 9 % from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Tuna inhabit the upper and middle layers of ocean water to a maximum depth of approximately 1,600 feet (500 meters), depending on size and species.
Individual governments are ultimately responsible for setting rules and regulations for fishing and for enforcing them.
However, governments rely upon third-party organizations for guidance regarding what rules to create and how to enforce them to create long-term sustainability for fish stocks. These are Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs).
There are five RFMOs which focus on tuna fishing and tuna stocks throughout the world. RFMOs help to manage tuna stocks through a variety of activities including conducting scientific research on fisheries, setting limits on catches, regulating fishing gear and more.