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Food Safety Authority Assesses Seafood Methylmercury Risk

Sustainability Food safety & handling +1 more

EU - The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that limiting consumption of fish species with a high methylmercury content is the most effective way to achieve the health benefits of fish whilst minimising the risks posed by excessive exposure to methylmercury.

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EFSA recommends that individual Member States consider their national patterns of fish consumption and assess the risk of different population groups exceeding safe levels of methylmercury while obtaining the health benefits of fish.

This particularly applies to countries where fish/seafood species with a high mercury content – such as swordfish, pike, tuna and hake – are consumed regularly.

Because of difficulties in generalising across the continent – there are large variations in the proportion of populations consuming fish, in the fish/seafood species consumed and in the average amount of fish consumed by different age groups across Europe – EFSA has created scenarios to give snapshots of the situation in different countries.

These show that in some countries certain population groups – notably toddlers and children aged three to 10 – reached the safety threshold or tolerable weekly intake (TWI) for methylmercury before they reached intake levels that brought nutritional benefits. EFSA therefore concludes that:

  • For toddlers, children and women of childbearing age, the benefits of eating fish should be met by increasing the consumption of species low in methylmercury.

  • To protect the foetus against the adverse neurodevelopmental effects of methylmercury, women of childbearing age should not exceed the TWI.

  • As the brain is developing also after birth, toddlers and children regularly exposed to methylmercury above the TWI should also be considered at risk from the neurotoxic effects of methylmercury.

The EFSA study followed a request from the European Commission in 2012 to carry out a risk benefit analysis as regards the risks and benefits to human health of fish/seafood consumption related to methylmercury.

Further Reading

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