Pallone: Proposed Seafood Mercury Warning Must Include Specifics in Order to Protect Pregnant Women and Children

Dec 11, 2003

Washington, D.C. --- U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today lauded both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for finally drafting a federal warning against the consumption of seafood for pregnant women, new mothers who are still breastfeeding and young children, but stated the warning must include more specifics in order to really protect at-risk populations.

The New Jersey congressman, a longtime critic of FDAs inability to adopt a tough new seafood standard for mercury, said that while the draft warning -- a warning stating that women of childbearing age and young children should not consume more than 12 ounces of fish per week -- is helpful for some kinds of fish, such levels of tuna, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark would be dangerous. Pallone said according to National Academy of Sciences (NAS) no more than 2 small cans of tuna is recommended on a weekly basis, considerably smaller than the 12 ounces included in the FDA advisory.

"While this initial draft is a step in the right direction, Im concerned it leaves women with the impression that these recommendations also hold true with tuna and other fish that have considerably higher mercury levels," Pallone said. "Unless FDA issues an advisory that elaborates on suggested consumption of various types of fish, particularly canned tuna, then women and infants will remain uninformed and subject to the dangers of mercury consumption.

"Once the final advisory is issued, I plan on introducing legislation to ensure that the public is fully informed about the adverse effects of mercury exposure through fish consumption and that the advisory, along with a public explanation, is distributed appropriately on the federal, state and local levels," Pallone continued. "In addition, the legislation will require the FDA to resume its seafood methyl-mercury monitoring program to better document mercury levels in various fish species."

Last year, Pallone introduced the Seafood Safety and Mercury Sceening Act of 2002 that requires the FDA to develop a system for testing seafood for methyl mercury. It also requires the FDA to develop a statutory threshold level for methyl mercury content in seafood, something it finally appears to be doing.

Back in 2000, NAS found that methyl-mercury "is widespread and persistent in the environment." NAS report found that women who consume a large amount of seafood while pregnant can cause harm to their child, estimating that as many as 60,000 children each year may develop neurological problems because of low-level mercury contamination.