Independent Research by The New York Times Reveals Unsafe Levels of Mercury in Tuna Sushi

Environmental Defense urges Congress to ensure limits on seafood contaminants are enforced

January 23, 2008
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: 
Katharine Burnham, (202) 415-5742, kburnham@environmentaldefense.org 
Tim Fitzgerald, (914)419-8662, tfitzgerald@environmentaldefense.org

(New York, NY – January 23, 2008) Tuna with unsafe levels of mercury is on dinner menus at some of New York’s most well known and expensive eateries, according to a report in today’s New York Times. At some restaurants, mercury levels in tuna sushi even exceeded limits set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Environmental Defense described the report as a wake up call that FDA was not protecting consumers from dangerous seafood.

“The FDA is failing the American people when it comes to seafood safety. As illustrated by recent news stories about illegal drug residues in Chinese seafood, FDA inspects less than one percent of imported seafood annually. Far less seafood is ever tested for environmental toxins such as mercury,” said Tim Fitzgerald, marine scientist with Environmental Defense in New York. “The FDA does so little mercury testing that they can't even come close to enforcing their own safety standards. Unfortunately, the situation is ‘buyer beware’ for U.S. consumers.”

Consumers can learn more about making wise seafood choices at www.EnvironmentalDefense.org/seafood. The website includes a list of contaminated fish based on data compiled from 200 studies by academic and government scientists, as well as recommendations of seafood choices that are healthy for both consumers and the environment.

“The public needs a new way to ensure their seafood is safe,” said Diane Regas, an attorney and Oceans Program managing director at Environmental Defense. “Congress should allow citizens to take action to ensure food is safe. Similar provisions have made a tremendous difference in ensuring enforcement of environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act. They could do the same to ensure food safety.” “FDA also needs to update its science,” continued Fitzgerald. “Their ‘action level’ for mercury is based on 35-year-old science. Even if FDA were equipped to enforce its current action level, consumers would still not be protected based on today’s knowledge.” In an effort that should be duplicated by the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established considerably tougher limits on mercury for fish caught by recreational and subsistence fishermen in state waters. A report from the National Academies of Science in 2000 called EPA’s limits “scientifically justifiable level for the protection of public health.”

“The bottom line is that current federal oversight for mercury falls far short of what’s needed to protect consumers,” said Fitzgerald. “Until FDA both updates its mercury action level and that limit is enforced, consumers who think they are eating a healthy seafood diet may actually be causing themselves serious harm.”