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EFSA: seafood methylmercury risks can be minimised

  (EUROPEAN UNION, 1/30/2015)

Limiting consumption of fish species with a high methylmercury content is the most effective way to achieve health benefits of fish whilst minimising the risks posed by excessive exposure to methylmercury. This is the main conclusion of a statement published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the risks and benefits of seafood.

This study follows a request made by the European Commission to EFSA 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.

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 3 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 statement by EFSA's Scientific Committee addresses the benefits of fish/seafood consumption – using n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) as an example of a beneficial substance – compared to the risks of methylmercury in fish/seafood, in relation to the number of fish servings per week.

It is based on two earlier EFSA scientific opinions which looked respectively at the risks from mercury and methylmercury in food, and the health benefits of fish/seafood.


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