The Mercury Policy Project of Montpelier, Vt., is pushing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to scrap tuna from school lunch menus after a test of 59 canned tuna samples sold to schools in 11 states revealed highly variable levels of mercury -- some of which exceeded federal guidelines, USA Today reports.
According to the study released Wednesday, the average methylmercury content ranged from 0.02 to 0.64 parts per million in light tuna, and between 0.19 and 1.27 parts per million in albacore tuna.
Researchers claim children should never eat albacore tuna, as the risk of mercury exposure far outweighs any potential nutritional benefits, according to WXYZ.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum acceptable dose for methylmercury is one-tenth of a microgram per kilogram of an individual’s body weight. According to USA Today, EPA scientists say even the smallest levels of methylmercury have been tied to learning disabilities and developmental delays in children.
In 2004, the EPA and FDA recommended women who are pregnant or might be pregnant eat only up to two meals, or 12 ounces, of fish and shellfish a week to ensure that a fetus’s brain is not exposed to damaging levels of mercury. The guidelines also stipulated children should eat “smaller portions.” But since then, some studies have suggested even that limit might be too high, USA Today reports.
Gavin Gibbons of the National Fisheries Institute, a seafood industry group in McLean, Va., countered that current federal dietary guidelines recommend Americans eat seafood twice a week, since it is a healthy protein and contains omega-3 fatty acids that benefit metabolism as well as brain function and development. But most Americans only indulge in seafood about once a week, or not at all, according to Gibbons.
"To suggest we're eating too much is almost comical," he told the paper, adding that scaring children away from tuna "at a point in their life when they're developing their nutrition habits and their palates" is detrimental.
Scientists like Michael Crawford have also provided years of evidence that fatty acids available in fish are critical to a child's cognitive functions. His work, and that of others, have shown that children lacking these essential fatty acids will negatively affect children's behavior and increase risk of mental health issues.
The call to phase out tuna from school lunches comes as controversy continues to reign over the new USDA school lunch requirements that — in addition to offering less sodium and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables — impose age-aligned calorie maximums on meals. Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) have recently introduced legislation that would repeal the calorie limits.
Students should have at least one serving of grains each day, and one-half of offerings must be rich in whole grain. Grades K-5: 8 to 9 servings per week Grades 6-8: 8 to 10 servings per week Grades 9-12: 10 to 12 servings per week
Nuts, tofu, cheese and eggs can be substituted for meat in some cases. Grades K-5: 8 to 10 ounces per week Grades 6-8: 9 to 10 ounces per week Grades 9-12: 10 to 12 ounces per week
Fat-free, low-fat and lactose-free milk options are allowable. Grades K-12: 1 cup per day
Only half of the weekly fruit requirement can come from juice. Grades K-8: One-half cup per day Grades 9-12: One cup per day
Weekly requirements for vegetable subgroups, including dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy and others. Grades K-8: Three-quarters cup per day Grades 9-12: One cup per day
By July 2014, sodium levels for lunches should not exceed: Grades K-5: 640 milligrams Grades 6-8: 710 milligrams Grades 9-12: 740 milligrams A timetable sets targets for further reducing sodium levels by 2022.
No more than 10 percent saturated fats. No trans-fat, except for those naturally occurring in meat and dairy products.
Calories can be averaged over the week. Grades K-5: 550 to 650 per day Grades 6-8: 600 to 700 per day Grades 9-12: 750 to 850 per day