Naked Science Forum

General Science => General Science => Topic started by: Razor on 19/08/2005 21:25:04

Title: Mercury in Tuna
Post by: Razor on 19/08/2005 21:25:04
As awareness has increased about the high levels of mercury in some kinds of canned tuna fish, tuna has taken on an image problem. Some consumers are shunning the product in favor of other kinds of fish or are avoiding fish altogether. Now 21 percent of consumers say they are extremely concerned about mercury in fish, up from 17% two years ago, according to the NPD Group research firm.

As a result, industry sales are sagging. Since March 2004, when the federal government issued a new advisory about seafood consumption and mercury, sales of canned tuna in the United States swung from modest growth to a steady decline. Sales are down 10 percent in the last year, causing a revenue loss of $150 million for the $1.5 billion industry.

The joint Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency advisory was the first time canned tuna fish was mentioned in such warnings. Previously, the agencies has warned only about mercury in swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish.

Hoping to stem the decline and repair tuna's reputation, the industry is trying to arrange a government program to oversee an advertising campaign promoting the benefits of tuna. Called "Tuna - A Smart Catch," the ad campaign would not directly address the mercury issue, but instead would highlight the various health benefits of tuna fish.

In one TV ad, moms proclaim that tuna has "Way less fat than beef and pork, "Contains no carbs and is "good for us".

But the ads, which have been created by Marriner Marketing in Columbia, will not appear on TV screens any time soon. The tuna industry is waiting for government approval of its ad program, to be administered by a group to be called the American Council for Tuna. David G. Burney, executive director of the United States Tuna Foundation, which is overseeing the creation of the council, says the industry already has the support of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the Department of Commerce, but is waiting for approval from the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees all government regulatory programs.

John Stiker, an executive vice president at Bumble Bee, said he was hoping the ad campaign would start next spring.

The American Council for Tuna follows in the footsteps of Department of Agriculture "checkoff" programs that have financed the "Got Milk" campaign and the "Beef. It's What's for Dinner" ads. Like these ad campaigns, the tuna program will not receive any government funding and will be supported through a fee imposed on all tuna producers.

Mr. Burney of the United States Tuna Foundation says he is hoping to raise $25 million in the first year, the majority of which will go toward advertising and the rest to other marketing efforts, like payments to public relations agencies. Contributing to the pot would be not only the three largest tuna companies - Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and StarKist, which together account for roughly 85 percent of the tuna sold in the United States - but also dozens of small family-owned companies that operate fishing boats, and import companies that sell private-label tuna fish to supermarkets.

Mr. Stiker of Bumble Bee says he hopes the ads will reassure consumers that tuna is a "wonder food".

"It's got these great omega 3's that you really can't get in any other typical lunch food, but we found that Americans just don't think of it as being very contemporary," Mr. Stiker said.

Mr. Stiker and Mr. Burney do not dispute that tuna is laced with mercury, which is a known toxin, but they say that, despite government warnings, the levels are still small enough that they do not pose a serious risk.

The F.D.A. and E.P.A. guidelines issued in March 2004 advised pregnant women, women of childbearing age and young children not to consume more than six ounces, or one can, of "chunk white" albacore tuna a week. For "chunk light" tuna, which comes from the smaller skipjack fish and contains less mercury, the recommended consumption limit is 12 ounces a week.

Mercury is of particular concern for fetuses because scientists believe that mercury in the mother's body passes to the fetus and may accumulate there. Young children are vulnerable because mercury can have a damaging effect on developing brains. Scientists at the National Academy of Sciences have said that adults can also be at risk if mercury levels are high enough. Symptoms of mercury toxicity include kidney troubles, irritability, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems.

Mr. Burney says he is convinced that getting mercury toxicity from tuna is impossible. While his wife was pregnant, he said, she consumed a can of albacore tuna almost every day. Mr. Stiker says his three boys, 9-year-old triplets, eat several cans of albacore a week.

Mr. Burney says that studies funded by the Tuna Foundation show mercury levels in a variety of types of tuna have not increased in the last 30 years. "It takes many, many years before mercury in the atmosphere reaches areas of the ocean where it can enter the food chain," Mr. Burney said.

Environmentalists believe that higher mercury levels in the atmosphere, much of which come from the emissions of coal-powered electricity plants, work their way into water sources and then into the food chain. Mr. Burney contends that because tuna are deepwater ocean fish, it takes many years for atmospheric mercury to find its way into their flesh.

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Title: Re: Mercury in Tuna
Post by: David Sparkman on 20/08/2005 02:54:29
I know that about 50 tons of Mercury are released into the atmosphere in the USA from coal power plants on a yearly basis, but I have also heard that there is come sort of method of  capturing the Hg similar to capturing sulfur. I would like to know more on this subject.

There was also a report on the radio that Hg is used as a catalyst in some chemical processes, and that a lot of Hg was typically lost due to evaporation.

All this bothers me. I don't know about the concern for global warming and other stuff, but mercury release is something that is to me a clear and present danger that should be avoided.

Title: Re: Mercury in Tuna
Post by: VAlibrarian on 20/08/2005 03:06:33
Your post is an interesting example of science meets economics and consumer psychology. Mercury levels in various ocean fish are a possible concern to consumers, who lack the scientific background to make educated estimates of risk- and in some cases may wonder if the "facts" presented by governmental regulators are objective, or perhaps colored by a desire to serve the needs of industry.

What is beyond dispute, in the meantime, is that many stocks of large predatory fish are overharvested and approaching collapse. This is because modern fishing technology allows fishermen to locate and capture almost all of the larger specimens of a fish species- something which they were never able to do in the old days with primitive gear.
It is also a fact that mercury in fish is largely a matter of industry vs. consumer trade-offs. We could nearly eliminate airborn mercury deposition on the sea surface by spending enormous amounts of money to clean up our electrical power plants. But we do not wish to spend that money, and therefore we eat traces of mercury. My solution is to become educated and to write to government officials. In the meantime, I still eat chunk light tuna, but not often. I do not eat bluefin tuna at all, because it is overharvested.

chris wiegard
Title: Re: Mercury in Tuna
Post by: sharkeyandgeorge on 20/08/2005 14:27:02
i may be wrong but isint mercury harmless when ingested i think drinking mercury is actualy a home remedy in mexico isnt it only dangerous to breath the fumes? thats why the mad hatter in alice in wonderlands mad mercury was used to cure fur and poisoned many furriers

Giggidy Giggidy Goo
The philosopher Q man
Title: Re: Mercury in Tuna
Post by: David Sparkman on 22/08/2005 01:48:21
Mercury like several other heavy metals concentrates itself in the liver, and much like lead, it affects the brain. I understand asprin does help remove it along with lead. But the government has much better cheltating agents for using when the heavy metal is radioactive.

Here in Virginia, we are hearing daily adds on the danger of Mercury, so it makes me think someone has figured out how to make money on people's fears. I understand a few power commpanies would like to convert from coal to Natural gas because they make a percent profit (controled public utility.) and 5% of twice as much money is twice the profit. To hell with the customers who are now paying twice as much for energy.

Title: Re: Mercury in Tuna
Post by: hank on 28/08/2005 00:23:13
Google for images, search on mercury methylmercury.
Title: Re: Mercury in Tuna
Post by: gotmercury on 13/09/2005 00:04:59
Got Mercury?

To measure how much mercury you're consuming and to compare that to the FDA and EPA warnings, please use our mercury calculator:

You can learn more about mercury in seafood, including that toxic tuna sandwich or sushi, through our website.