MERCURY OR OMEGA-3 ?? PARENTS IN
By Henk Brus (Apr. 27, 01)
A recent mercury warning by the Washington State department of health shocked me. Like most other health-conscious tuna- loving parents with young kids enjoying our Omega-3 food, a headline saying :" Kids and Women Urged Not To Eat Tuna" drew my alarmed attention. When you read that " Children also need to hold canned tuna", because it could harm their nervous system. According to the media they could get learning, memory and IQ defects because of methyl mercury in canned tuna. You quickly think back how much tuna your kids have been happily eating over the last 6 years, and what could have been the effect to their health.
But after the first scare, you remember also the health benefits of Omega-3 to the nervous system, the brain, and memory, the heart, etc. So perhaps they got more good then bad, or would it be the other way around ? Confusion kicks in !
At atuna.com we almost publish every month another study revealing to advantages of Omega-3 and DHA to the health of ourselves and our family. But also with the same frequency you see studies surfacing urging consumers not to eat fish, due to pollution with heavy metals such as Dioxin, PCB's and Mercury. As a father I can imagine how confusing it all becomes to parents having to choose what their kids should eat it or eat it not ! Now many families have just decided that it would be much healthier and wiser to eat fish, they are flooded with reports about all kinds of pollutants in salmon, and now also tuna !
When you study the do-not-eat-tuna /mercury publications closer, it becomes obvious that conclusions often tends to be hypothetical. The Washington State report says a 60 pound child should not eat more then maximal 3 ounces or 90 grams of tuna per week. Considering that an average American in 1995 eat in one entire year only about 11 or 12 tuna related fish meals, it seems very unlikely that almost in any family would ever exceed this limit. The question then is, would the health benefit of the Omega -3 content to their body not be greater then the potential harm of methyl-mercury ? Unfortunately these issues are not addressed by those concerned by health. Let the consumer figure it out !
For consumers it is often much easier to decide NOT to buy something, triggered of fear, then of buying something because it is so beneficial to the health. For journalist it is often easier to write about poisonous things then about healthy things. Fearful stories just get more attention !
It is just these tendencies that could pose a future threat to the future development of the yellowfin steak. Yellowfin is a larger fish, then skipjack. Research has shown that larger fish, tend to have hold higher composites of mercury then smaller fish. While the EU holds a mercury limit of 0.5 PPM, the FDA has a limit of 1 PPM. Washington State would like to see a maximum of 0.175 pp. Within the tuna industry most believe that 75% -85% of all cans of skipjack tuna would still meet that level, for canned yellowfin that might be somewhat lower. But considering that an average steak of yellowfin weighs about 125 to 150 grams (5-5,5oz), it could easily become the future target of " health" groups to beat it down. Some time ago EII even teamed-up with mercury activist, because they had a common cause, stop the import of yellowfin from Middle and South America.
What is so incredible in the publications about mercury and tuna, is that hardly any attention to what is causing the poisoning of our tuna resource. Studies have revealed that 33% of methyl mercury comes from Coal-fired utilities, 18% from Industrial and Commercial boilers, and 18.5 % from Municipal waste combusters, and 10% by medical waste incinerators. If no measures are taken to drastically reduce the output of mercury, it could mean that even though tuna would be perfectly healthy and clean food source, we would in the future encounter increased barriers by local authorities, such as in Washington State, to market our products. Even though Omega-3 offers great health benefits to our families.
As a tuna industry, we should seriously consider how to address this mercury issue. It poses a threat to the marketing of both canned, chilled and frozen tuna. But especially the latter two could experience obstruction in sales and consumption if the issue is not properly addressed. As an industry, with our valuable resource being polluted, it would be a wise thing to consider how we should take appropriate political action, stimulate deeper research not only towards mercury "scares", but also towards the promotion and health benefits of Omega- 3. We should possibly express more concern over the pollution of our oceans and its fish, our cleanest and healthiest food source, and source of income. Increased support to environmental groups on the pollution issue could be an option.
After heaving read all these scary stories about elevated mercury blood levels, loss of memory and IQ defects, I recently requested the local hospital, during a routine health check to test my blood on mercury. Because I have been eating more then 200 grams of tuna each week over the last 10 years and I would be the best guinea pig ! With disbelief the analysts looked at me.... why on earth would somebody have himself tested on mercury because he liked eating Tuna ???? The outcome was as expected, no single trace of mercury poisoning could be detected in my bloods. My cholesterol level was great ! However I must honestly admit I did not do the I.Q test yet.......
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