BELTSVILLE, Md. (AP) -- Pregnant women who eat too much tuna risk exposing their unborn babies' developing brains to possibly harmful mercury levels, but there is no need for the women to cut the highly nutritious fish out of their diets altogether, a government advisory panel said.
That was the message Thursday from the advisers as they grappled with exactly what the Food and Drug Administration should tell women.
The advice Wisconsin health officials offer pregnant women may be the right approach until the FDA gets better data, the panelists concluded: Two 6-ounce cans of tuna per week is fine if that's the only fish they eat, or a single can if other seafood, which also can contain mercury, is part of their diet.
"Nobody wants to tell people to stop eating tuna fish," said the panel chairman, Sanford Miller of Virginia Tech University. "We're trying to balance the very positive virtues of fish, including tuna fish, with the harms. It's a very hard balance to make."
Indeed, tuna provides high-quality protein for pregnant women who might instead choose higher-fat bologna, added panelist Joseph Hotchkiss, a Cornell University food scientist.
The FDA already tells pregnant women not to eat four fish species that contain the highest levels of mercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, also known as golden or white snapper.
But those women should eat up to 12 ounces a week of a variety of other cooked fish, including canned tuna, shellfish and smaller ocean fish, the FDA advises. Canned tuna and those other species contain far less mercury than types on the don't-eat list.
But the FDA's advice, issued last year, caused an uproar as consumer advocates charged that tuna should be limited, too -- because as the nation's most popular seafood, women may eat enough to add up to risky mercury levels.
The U.S. Tuna Association declined comment. But the food industry testified that very few pregnant women eat enough fish, much less tuna, today to absorb worrisome mercury levels.
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