FDA should warn pregnant women to prevent birth defects from mercury-tainted seafood

CSPI Comments to FDA on Advice re Mercury, Fish for Pregnant Women

WASHINGTON - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should warn pregnant women and parents of young children about the risks associated with methylmercury-contaminated fish, urged a broad-based consumer coalition today. In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Donna Shalala, the groups stressed that methylmercury-contaminated seafood may be causing neurological problems in as many as 60,000 children born each year, according to a report issued by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) last July. The coalition members are the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the American Public Health Association, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the Mercury Policy Project (MPP), and the Sierra Club.

      “FDA’s current advice on methylmercury-contaminated seafood doesn’t adequately protect pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at CSPI. “Countless children may needlessly suffer because their parents were never told about the consequences of consuming mercury-tainted fish,” she added.

      The coalition asked HHS to warn at-risk women (and children) not to eat shark, swordfish, and tuna steaks, the seafood most likely to exceed recommended limits on methylmercury.

      “The NAS first told HHS in 1991 that FDA’s standards for methylmercury were too weak. Nearly a decade has gone by and the government still hasn’t fixed the problem,” explained Michael Bender of MPP. “It’s unconscionable that HHS has not acted quickly on this second NAS report.”