FDA, EPA alter fish consumption recommendations

June 11, 2014

Ten years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised pregnant and breastfeeding women, and women who might become pregnant, to limit their consumption of fish to no more than 12 oz a week to protect the fetus and their children from mercury, which is present to some degree in all fish. However, the FDA’s analysis of the reported seafood consumption of more than 1,000 pregnant women in the United States found that more than 20% of them had eaten no fish at all in the previous month. Of the women who reported eating fish, 50% ate less than 2 oz a week, and 75% ate less than 4 oz per week. Because there is a beneficial link between eating fish during pregnancy and children’s growth and development, the FDA and EPA are now recommending that pregnant and breastfeeding women eat at least 8–12 oz per week of a variety of fish lower in mercury.

What fish are lower in mercury? The answer is most fish in the grocery store. For example, nine of the most-commonly eaten fish in the U.S. are toward the low end: shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish, cod, flatfish, and haddock. The four fish that the FDA and EPA continue to recommend that women in the target group and young children avoid because they are the highest in mercury are: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. These four types of fish are not commonly eaten in the United States and represent less than 2% of the market share here.

The two agencies continue to recommend that women in the target group eat no more than 6 oz per week of albacore tuna, which is nearly three times the amount that most women are now eating of any type of fish in a typical week.

The updated draft advice is open for comments.

Draft advice