The FDA is advising these women not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel,
and tilefish. As a matter of prudent public health advice, the FDA is also recommending
that nursing mothers and young children not eat these fish as well.
Fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish contain high levels
of a form of mercury called methyl mercury that may harm an unborn baby's developing
nervous system. These long-lived, larger fish that feed on smaller fish accumulate
the highest levels of methyl mercury and therefore pose the greatest risk to
the unborn child. Mercury can occur naturally in the environment and it can
be released into the air through industrial pollution and can get into both
fresh and salt water.
The FDA advisory acknowledges that seafood can be an important part of a balanced
diet for pregnant women and those of childbearing age who may become pregnant.
FDA advises these women to select a variety of other kinds of fish -- including
shellfish, canned fish, smaller ocean fish or farm-raised fish -- and that these
women can safely eat 12 ounces per week of cooked fish. A typical serving size
of fish is from 3 to 6 ounces.
The FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition will launch a comprehensive
education program to reach pregnant women and women of childbearing age who
may become pregnant and their health care providers concerning the hazard posed
by methyl mercury to the unborn child. As one of its priorities for fiscal year
2001, the Center will also develop our overall public health strategy for future
regulation of methyl mercury in commercial seafood.
Today, EPA is also issuing advice on possible mercury contamination to women
and children eating fish caught by family and friends (non-commercial fish).
EPA particularly recommends that consumers check with their state or local health
department for any additional advice on the safety of fish from nearby waters.