Consumer advocates are concerned that the recently updated federal guidance encouraging pregnant women, nursing mothers and children to consume two to three servings of fish and shellfish a week oversimplifies its species recommendations. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Mercury Policy Project (MPP), along with mercury researcher Philippe Grandjean, think that the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency guidance fails to protect vulnerable consumers from methylmercury exposure while still providing beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. EWG’s Sonya Lunder said that the organization was surprised to see that, after years of deliberation, “the FDA advice remained basically the same when it came to mercury, and at the same time recommended that pregnant women and children dramatically increase their consumption of fish.” “I think that it’s particularly important for pregnant women to include seafood in their diet,” Grandjean said in a call with reporters. “However, the advisory ignores, to a large extent, the risks associated with mercury exposure.” In January, EWG reported on fish contaminant and nutrient data, concluding that 10 of 35 seafood varieties sold commercially in the U.S. would pose an unacceptable mercury risk to a pregnant woman of average weight if she ate eight ounces weekly, as FDA recommends. A new report released by EWG and MPP on Wednesday states that the list of four high-mercury fish to avoid and nine popular “lower mercury” seafood choices included in the agencies’ draft guidance published earlier this month “is incomplete and misleading.” Of the nine “lower mercury” choices, EWG and MPP say that canned light tuna and cod are not actually low in mercury, and that a pregnant woman who frequently eats them risks elevated mercury exposure. The consumer advocates are particularly concerned that the agencies are repeating erroneous information about canned tuna — one of the most popular fish eaten in the U.S. “More than one-third of Americans’ exposure to methylmercury comes from tuna, because tuna is fairly high in mercury and Americans consume it frequently,” the report says. A single six-ounce serving of albacore tuna per week significantly exceeds EPA’s safe limit, and, although canned light tuna contains less mercury, “it provides far less omega-3 fatty acids and thus is not a suitable alternative for pregnant women.” The groups recommend that pregnant women and children not eat more than one serving of canned light tuna per week. They continue to say that seven of the recommended low-mercury species are poor sources of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and that pregnant women would need to eat five to 20 servings per week of these species in order to get the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon — one of the recommended species — has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and a single serving can provide a pregnant woman with her entire recommended weekly amount. “FDA/EPA should have noted that there are other high-omega-3, lower-mercury choices, including anchovies, herring, mussels, sardines and trout,” the report states. “In addition, the new government advice ignores the fact that some fish may also contain other pollutants.” EWG and MPP also note that the guidelines fail to warn people who often eat fish that the more fish they eat, the more they should pay attention to choosing low-mercury varieties. “They need detailed information about the relative mercury content of various seafood choices so they can keep their mercury exposure within safe limits,” the report states. Grandjean said he is concerned that FDA’s risk-benefit analysis of mercury in seafood is based on outdated information. “I think that is why the advisory is so surprising,” he said. “The other thing that I think the FDA has gotten wrong is that they focus on the net benefit — that is, if the benefit from essential nutrients are greater than the risks associated with mercury.” While outlining the report for the press, MPP Executive Director Michael Bender referenced a recent article in Discover magazine about members of Congress from the Northeast requesting that USDA purchase dogfish for the National School Lunch Program and other federal programs even though that species can contain higher levels of mercury than canned albacore tuna. “It’s just a prime example of not only the general population but other federal agencies not having any clear guidance as to which fish are low-mercury fish and which fish are higher-mercury fish,” Bender said. FDA and EPA are expected to issue final guidelines this fall. EWG will be submitting comments on the draft guidance and is calling on the agency to “overhaul” its recommendations.