Back in late August, FoodFacts.com took a look at the new federal regulations regarding school lunches. We were generally pleased about the new rules, and felt that, even if there are some rough spots along the road, these new regulations were a great start at nutritional improvements for our children. Today, we have found one of those bumps in the road.
A new report recently published by the Mercury Policy Project has found that tuna being sold to our schools may contain higher levels of mercury than previously understood. This report is the first of its kind, testing the different brands sold to school systems. The report comes with recommendations for parents and schools on limiting children’s consumption of these products. Some children may be at greater risk from mercury in tuna than previously thought, finds a new study by the Mercury Policy Project (MPP).
It’s an extremely detailed report and it contains solid advice on the amounts and types of tuna that can be consumed by kids. (See link below.) While it is noted that most children consume only moderate amounts of tuna and are not at risk of mercury problems, it does remain true that some kids really prefer the canned fish over other school lunch offerings. That’s the group of kids that are at significant risk from the mercury content. Health experts are encouraging parents and schools to restrict the frequency of their tuna offerings during lunch. In addition, they are stating that no albacore tuna should be served to kids at all, and to consider lower-mercury replacements for tuna such as canned salmon.
It was found that limiting tuna consumption for twice per month for most children and once per month for kids under 55 pounds would help to curb mercury exposure. Since light tuna has one-third as much mercury as albacore, albacore should be off the menu completely. Canned tuna is the biggest source of mercury in our diets. The report tested mercury content in 59 canned tuna samples from eight different brands that are sold to schools in eleven different states.
Kids in the United States eat twice the amount of canned tuna than any other fish. It’s inexpensive and supplies low-fat protein – plus it’s a fish that kids actually like. And since the new federal regulations do call for leaner protein sources, tuna is served consistently in our cafeterias. The following advice is directly from the report:
• Children should not eat albacore tuna. Albacore or “white” tuna contains triple the mercury level of light tuna; nothing justifies tripling a child’s mercury dose.
• Children weighing more than 55 pounds should not eat more than two servings of light tuna per month. This amount of tuna (six ounces) is more than the average child currently consumes; the mercury dose it contains is acceptably low in risk.
• Children up to 55 pounds should consume no more than one tuna meal per month. Because of their smaller body size, an added margin of caution is appropriate for younger children.
• “Tuna-loving” kids should be the focus of risk-management efforts. In particular:
o No child should eat tuna every day. (Tuna Surprise presents cases of children who did that, and were diagnosed with clinical methylmercury poisoning.)
o Parents and schools should offer children other seafood choices, such as shrimp and salmon, which are just as nutritious but contain far less mercury.
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Lunch Program should phase out commodity purchases of canned tuna, and replace it with lower-mercury alterative seafood items and other extra-lean protein sources.
• Parents should monitor their children’s canned tuna consumption at school and ensure that the total consumed at home and at school does not exceed the recommendations for exposure.
FoodFacts.com wanted to make our community aware of this important information. If you have kids yourself, or in your network, it’s information we should all pay attention to during this school year.