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Pregnant women should avoid tuna, Consumer Reports warns

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Pregnant women should avoid tuna completely, a new warning from Consumer Reports.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently started encouraging women and children to eat more low-mercury fish. For the first time in history, the agency released recommendations on dietary levels of fish and shellfish, including eight to 12 ounces a week for women carrying a child.

Consumer Reports released a report criticizing the agency for removing a list they once provided on their website, listing fish varieties low in mercury. The consumer advocacy group stated their belief that the list made it easier for consumers to select healthier options in seafood.

The FDA website used to offer a table, allowing visitors an opportunity to view seafood options grouped into three categories, based on their average concentrations of mercury. Consumer Reports questioned the methodology used to generate the rankings. The government agency then replaced that listing with one which grouped all fish together, by alphabetical order, along with average mercury concentrations.

"Consumers Union is disappointed that FDA has taken this action, which will only make it harder for vulnerable groups to identify lower mercury fish. While Consumer Reports is providing a list that helps them do this in its forthcoming October issue, we believe the FDA has an obligation to provide the public with the most helpful information to make decisions," Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability of Consumer Reports, along with Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumer Union, wrote [pdf] in a letter addressed to the FDA.

Mercury concentrations in fish are likely to rise over the next few years, according to a study from researchers at the University of Michigan, published in the journal Nature in 2013. The toxin, found in nearly all seafood, is expected to become more pronounced in the environment, driven by industrial pollution and changing rain patterns.

Mercury poisoning can cause a wide range of physical and neurological ailments, including tremors, errors in fine motor skills, and sleep problems. Pregnant women and children are most susceptible to exposure to the toxic element.
 
Consumer Reports and the FDA agree that children and pregnant women should avoid eating fish species with the highest levels of mercury - shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish harvested from the Gulf of Mexico. The consumer watchdog group disagrees with the federal agency on whether or not expectant mothers should consume tuna.

Consumer Reports released a list of 20 edible fish varieties they rank as among the healthiest of all species for susceptible populations.

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