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US Diet Advice May Expose Babies to Mercury

Pregnant women may be getting too much mercury and not enough Omega-3 from fish, a new report warns. Continue reading →

Diet recommendations under consideration by the U.S. government may lead pregnant mothers to eat unsafe levels of mercury, argues a new report from a consumer watchdog group.

At the same time, pregnant women may not be getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, part of the reason seafood is recommended during pregnancy.

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"The study shows that during pregnancy women should not only watch how much fish they eat, but what kind of fish," according to the Environmental Working Group. "Pregnant women who follow the federal government's draft dietary advice could eat too much fish high in toxic mercury, which is harmful to the developing brains of fetuses, babies and young children. There is strong evidence that mercury exposure during pregnancy and childhood causes lifelong deficits in learning, memory and reaction times."

Hair samples from 254 women from 40 states were tested. The women ate two or more seafood meals a week, as suggested by recommendations currently under consideration by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the study. Nearly a third of the women tested contained mercury levels the exceed EPA guidelines.

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Higher levels of mercury were found in women who consumed swordfish, marlin, shark and tuna steaks and tuna sushi. Lower-mercury species include catfish and tilapia, but the report notes they're also lower in omega-3 fatty acids. Wild salmon, the study notes, is both high in omega-3 and low in mercury exposure. So are anchovies, herring, shad, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel.

"Federal guidelines fall short on protecting women who are pregnant or planning to have children," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, in a statement released by the EWG. "Based on the evidence, it's time for FDA and EPA to revise their advice, particularly when it comes to reducing tuna consumption, since it's the largest mercury exposure in the American diet."

The National Fisheries Institute disputed the results of the study, saying in a statement: "EWG recommends FDA bring its advice to pregnant women into alignment with the USDA Dietary Guidelines to, 'provide greater clarity.' What they do not mention is that the guidelines have historically said the 'benefits of consuming seafood far outweigh the risks, even for pregnant women.'"

Atlantic Halibut

April 25, 2012 -

Whole Foods, the Texas-based natural foods supermarket, no longer carries fish considered to be unsustainable. The Whole Foods ban includes fish that is either overfished or caught in a harmful way, according to their website. The popular Atlantic Halibut made the list, though the company will still sell Atlantic cod that is caught by hook and line or gillnets. "Stewardship of the ocean is so important to our customers and to us," David Pilat, the global seafood buyer for Whole Foods told the New York Times. "We're not necessarily here to tell fishermen how to fish, but on a species like Atlantic cod, we are out there actively saying, 'For Whole Foods Market to buy your cod, the rating has to be favorable.'" Here's a look at the list of fish that the superstore no longer sells and why.

Octopus Whole Foods uses ratings set by the Blue Ocean Institute, a conservation group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. The ratings are based on factors including how abundant a species is, how quickly it reproduces and whether the catch method damages its habitat.

Imported Wild Shrimp "At Whole Foods Market, we've been saying that our mission is to sell only wild-caught fish that has been responsibly caught. For a few years now, we've used color-coded sustainability ratings, from green (best choice) to red (avoid), to help you make an informed choice. Now we're putting our mackerel where our mouth is: To support greater abundance in our oceans, we're no longer carrying red-rated wild-caught seafood!" the company wrote on its blog.

Tuna (from specific areas and catch methods rated "red") On their website, Whole Foods says that they stopped selling "species that were extremely depleted in the oceans, such as orange roughy, shark and bluefin tuna" years ago. The company uses the sustainability ratings of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

Rockfish According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "In recent years, reduced fishing has allowed many rockfish populations to recover from low levels. Gear concerns remain, however -- trawl-caught rockfish should still be avoided."

Swordfish Some of the gear used to fish swordfish "accidentally catches sea turtles, seabirds and sharks," according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Skate Wing Skates are in the overfished category. Most are also caught with bottom trawls, which result in high levels of accidental catch.

Sturgeon According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, "Sturgeon farmed in the U.S. is a good alternative to most wild sturgeon, whose populations have seriously declined due to overfishing for sturgeon eggs (caviar)."

Tautog Also known as black fish, Tautog are considered a "vulnerable" species. They are found close to shore on hard-bottom habitats, occasionally entering brackish water.

Trawl-Caught Atlantic Cod Fishermen often catch cod with bottom trawl, large nets that skim across the seafloor. Trawling, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "damages marine habitats and produces bycatch."

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Turbot A cousin of Pacific halibut, turbot are a right-eyed flatfish -- as they develop, their left eye migrates across the top of the skull toward the other eye on the right side. Turbot are yellowish or grayish-brown on top and paler on their underside.

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Gray Sole Gray sole, a flatfish bottom-dweller, has experienced heavy fishing pressure from domestic and international fleets over the last half-century, according to Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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