Mercury in tuna: Why isn’t the data on the label?

08Sep09

If you pay any attention to health news, you may have followed the recent controversy over mercury levels in tuna and other fish. There are many sides to the story, but I find one aspect of it really surprising. Namely, it appears that the US government has been publishing stats about which types of fish have higher and lower mercury levels, even down to the individual varieties of tuna, for several years now. Yet the only way to get this data is to look it up yourself online.

Clearly, the government has put money into researching the mercury issue. So why don’t they recommend that manufacturers print the relevant stats on canned tuna and other products? Perhaps it could be an average based on all products of that type, with another data point based on testing that specific brand itself. I even saw a study from a TV station in California that had tested a bunch of canned tuna on their own. If a TV station can afford to do those calculations for a single story, surely a company that makes the product can run the same tests as part of their routine nutritional analysis.

Speaking of nutritional info, the US already requires food products to include a standardized label with calories, fat, and more. Adding things like mercury and other environmental contaminants to the labeling standard seems like a logical next step, though I can imagine that revising the standard takes time. As an interim solution, it seems like savvy manufacturers would want to add this information to their labels. After all, any consumer who is concerned about mercury levels would probably pick the product that provides that info, rather than choosing an alternative brand that refuses to acknowledge the issue at all.



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