The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have advised women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to limit their intake of certain fish.

The FDA and EPA said that such at-risk groups should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.

However, the FDA also emphasised the health benefits of eating fish as part of a healthy and balanced diet and recommended the at-risk consumer groups eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) per week of a variety of low-mercury fish, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.

The advice said that albacore (white) tuna contains more mercury than canned light tuna and so only six ounces of albacore tuna should be consumed per week.

“This revised advisory is a culmination of months of hard work by both agencies,” said FDA deputy commissioner, Lester M. Crawford. “By following this advice, we’re confident that women and young children can safely include fish as an important part of a healthy diet.” 

The National Consumer League welcomed the announcement, saying it was important consumes were not scared away from foods that are safe and healthy for most people.

“It is critical that consumers feel confident in selecting fish and seafood as part of their diet in lieu of higher fat, higher cholesterol, and higher calorie meats,” said Linda Golodner, NCL president. “The FDA has done a service to consumers by highlighting the health and nutritional benefits of fish and seafood while alerting certain groups about the potential risks associated with over-consumption of products containing high levels of methyl mercury.”