Fish :: Health Canada revises assessment of mercury in fish

Health Canada has completed a review of the science on mercury in fish, and is putting additional measures in place to protect Canadians while encouraging them to follow the fish consumption advice contained in the new Food Guide.

Health Canada’s standards for mercury in fish were already some of the most stringent and protective in the world.

They are now being strengthened even further to focus on certain predatory fish, which tend to have higher levels of mercury because of their relative size, lifespan and diet.

These fish, which had previously been exempted from Health Canada’s standard, will now be subject to a 1.0 parts per million mercury limit. This new standard will apply to fresh and frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, escolar, marlin and orange roughy. Other fish, including canned tuna, will still be required to meet the existing 0.5 parts per million standard.

Health Canada’s updated advice reflects the new standard being put in place, stresses the important nutritional benefits of eating fish and reflects advice provided in Canada’s Food Guide. For the large predatory fish now subject to the new standard, the general population can eat up to 150 g per week of these fish species combined. However, women who are or may become pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can eat up to 150 g per month. Young children between 5 and 11 years of age can eat up to 125 g per month. Very young children between 1 and 4 years of age should eat no more than 75 g per month of these fish species.

Health Canada’s review also identified the need for advice to specific Canadians related to canned albacore tuna. This advice was released in February 2007 and applies to women who are or may become pregnant, breastfeeding mothers and children. This information is available on the Health Canada Web site.

These changes are the result of a major review that considered the latest scientific information about fish consumption and mercury. It looked at the risk of negative health effects for Canadians of all ages from exposure to mercury through commercial fish, and also considered the health benefits of fish consumption in general. It is the most comprehensive national assessment on mercury in fish done to date, the results of which are now available on the Health Canada Web site.

Fish and seafood can be an important part of a healthy balanced diet and most Canadians do not need to be concerned about mercury exposure from eating fish. However the types of fish available for sale in Canada has changed over the years and science is regularly updated as new information is discovered. As a result, and based on the most recent information about mercury levels in retail fish, some changes are being made to Health Canada’s standards and advice on mercury in fish to help Canadians incorporate the right kinds and amounts of fish into their diets with confidence.

Canada’s Food Guide recommends that Canadians eat at least two Food Guide servings (of 75 grams each) of fish each week. Canadians are encouraged to choose fish that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, herring, sardines, char, Atlantic mackerel and rainbow trout. These fish also tend to be low in mercury.