Pregnant women should never eat canned tuna due to high mercury levels, study suggests

Consumer Reports analyzes 5 popular brands

Bumble Bee recalls canned tuna products

A recent Consumer Reports study of mercury levels in five popular canned tuna brands resulted in recommendations that pregnant women avoid eating the staple seafood altogether, citing generally high levels of the neurotoxin in some cans and unpredictable spikes in others.

The study — analyzing canned light/skipjack and albacore tuna from Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, StarKist, Safe Catch and Wild Planet — found that albacore varieties regardless of the brand contained three times more mercury on average than alternatives. This — as Consumer Reports states is already well-known among scientists and seafood experts — is due in large part to how larger ocean fish absorb more mercury in their lifetimes than smaller fish, lending the same toxic traits to other big species such as swordfish, shark and king mackerel.

“These (large ocean fish) should be consumed only very occasionally, if at all, and not ever by children or people who are or could become pregnant,” Consumer Reports states.

Mercury in high amounts can impact an otherwise healthy adult’s sensory and motor functions, speech capabilities and ability to sleep, Consumer Reports states. The concern for pregnant people is higher.

“From can to can, mercury levels can spike in unpredictable ways that might jeopardize the health of a fetus,” said James E. Rogers, PhD, director of Food Safety Research and Testing at Consumer Reports.

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That concern was further noted in a statement recently provided to Consumer Reports by the Food and Drug Administration, explaining how the government’s stance in its own recommendations for fish consumption are “protective of neurodevelopmental effects from a critical window of development for a fetus during pregnancy.”

Consumer Reports’ study tested three samples of each product, 30 samples total, all packed in water.

Its results — illustrated in the number of 5oz cans (4oz servings) that non-pregnant adults could reasonably eat each week — were as follows:

Light tuna | 5oz cansAlbacore tuna | 5oz cans
Bumble Bee3 cans (Chunk Light)2 cans (Albacore)
Chicken of the Sea3 cans (Chunk Light)1 can (Albacore)
Safe Catch3 cans (Wild Elite)1 can (Albacore)
StarKist3 cans (Chunk Light)1 can (Selects No Salt)
Wild Planet1 can (Skipjack Wild)1 can (Albacore Wild)

For children, Consumer Reports advised against ever serving them albacore tuna, instead recommending the following weekly serving amounts of light or skipjack tuna:

1 to 3 years old2
4 to 7 years old4
8 to 10 years old6
11 years old8

According to Consumer Reports’ findings, though mercury can naturally occur in the ocean, mercury contamination in fish has a direct link to human pollution. In fact, the study notes how while mercury levels are rising in tuna caught in the Pacific Ocean, they’re falling in the Atlantic.

“In China and India, they burn a lot of coal for electricity, and when you burn coal, you release a lot of mercury into the air, which eventually rains down; so mercury levels have been increasing somewhat in the Pacific...Whereas in the Atlantic, we’ve shown that the levels have declined a little bit, primarily because of efforts made in North sort of scrub the mercury from coal-fired plants in the U.S. and Canada,” said Nicholas Fisher, PhD, professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

Read more on Consumer Reports.

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About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.