The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are encouraging pregnant women, as well as women who may become pregnant or are breastfeeding, and young children to eat more fish, setting for the first time a recommended lower limit of fish consumption to promote health.
In draft guidance released June 10, the agencies are calling for women to consume 8-12 ounces of a variety of fish that are lower in mercury; that amount works out to an average of two to three servings per week. Among the types of fish highlighted that are lower in mercury are salmon, shrimp, pollock, tuna (light canned), tilapia, catfish, and cod.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests an amount of 3-5 ounces per week for children under the age of 6 and 4-6 ounces per week for children aged 6-8, the agencies said in an accompanying question-and-answer set. Appropriate amounts of fish for older children would increase up to the adult recommendation. Children should not be given fish until they are at least 6 months of age.
The agencies recommend four types of fish to avoid because of mercury content: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. They also recommend limiting white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week for adults and even less for children.
In addition, the agency is advising that those eating fish caught in local waters should listen for local advisories regarding those fish and, if no advice is available, fish consumption from those sources should be limited to 6 ounces per week in pregnant women and 1-3 ounces for young children. The recommendation reiterates that pregnant women and young children should avoid eating raw fish.
The agencies noted that they are issuing this draft guidance because recent reports "show many pregnant women in the United States are not consuming fish recommended" by 2010 United States Department of Agriculture guidelines. The agencies added that there is "longstanding evidence of the nutritional value of fish in the diet. Fish contain high-quality protein, many vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acid, and are mostly low in saturated fat, and some fish even contain vitamin D. The nutritional value of fish is especially important during growth and development before birth, in early infancy for breastfed infants, and in childhood."
Citing its own analysis of seafood consumption data from more than 1,000 pregnant women in the United States, the FDA noted that 21% ate no fish in the previous month and those who ate fish consumed far less than recommended in USDA guidelines, with 50% eating fewer than 2 ounces per week and 75% eating fewer than 4 ounces per week.
This draft guidance would replace similar recommendations issued by the FDA/EPA in March 2004, with a recommendation of simply up to 12 ounces of a variety of fish per week (two average meals), avoiding the same four identified types of fish because of their high mercury content. Previous guidance did not set a recommended lower limit of consumption.
The agencies will begin accepting comments on new guidance June 11.