Should You Be Concerned about Canned Tuna Mercury Content?

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Canned Tuna Mercury Content

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal commonly found in soil, rocks and water. The presence of mercury in water has led to concerns over mercury content in seafood, including canned tuna. Conflicting reports over the mercury content of canned tuna have led many consumers to question what information is legitimate and whether canned tuna is being unfairly discriminated against. Some health organizations such as Health Canada are revising warnings over mercury concerns in canned tuna due to new information that is now available. New information about mercury levels in different kinds of tuna are leading to discussions on whether the concerns about mercury continue to be justified and that the health benefits of eating canned tuna actually outweigh any risks associated with mercury content (Health Canada, 2011a).

Concerns with Mercury Consumption

Experts agree that consistently consuming a diet of foods that have high levels of mercury can have negative effects on health. What has recently been called into question is how much mercury is contained in different species of fish and how much an average person can safely consume. Consumers who make informed choices about what types of fish are consumed are able to effectively manage mercury exposure from fish while continuing to take advantage of the health benefits that fish provides (Health Canada, 2011b).
There have been concerns about mercury levels in particular species of canned tuna such as albacore. Health Canada states that all canned tuna, including albacore, is typically below the Health Canada safety standards of 0.5 parts per million (ppm). The organization also notes that consumers can safely eat canned "light” tuna without concern because it has low mercury levels due to the small sized species of tuna used (skipjack, yellowfin and tongol) (Health Canada, 2011b).

The Health Benefits of Tuna

There are a number of health benefits to be had when tuna is included as part of a healthy diet. Tuna is a significant source of long-chain omega-3 fats while also being rich in vitamin D and selenium (The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2014). Omega-3 fats have a number of health benefits including maintaining heart function and helping to relieve different types of inflammation (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2014).
Tuna is also an excellent source of complete protein. Complete proteins contain the amino acids that the human body cannot produce itself (Tremblay, 2014). Protein is used by the body to build and repair healthy muscle tissue.

Is the Canned Tuna Industry Sustainable?

There are also some concerns about the sustainability of the canned tuna industry. Tuna is the most popular product available from Clover Leaf; it is also the species that Clover Leaf is most heavily involved with in terms of sustainability efforts (The Clover Leaf Seafoods Family, 2014b). Clover Leaf is a founding member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) a global organization composed of leading scientists, members of the tuna industry and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the world’s leading conservation organization, all of who are focused on promoting science-based initiatives for the long term health of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch and promoting ecosystem health.
They have adopted the following sustainable fishing policies (The Clover Leaf Seafoods Family, 2014a)  in order to ensure the long term prosperity of tuna stocks as well as the health of our oceans:
  • Cease participation in fisheries where overfishing is occurring, and the fishery is overfished, and management actions are not in place to return the fishery to a sustainable state. In cases where fisheries lack data and/or effective management, Clover Leaf will work with the fishery on improvement plans, rather than abandon them.
  • Maintaining transparency for the majority of products from the ocean to plate – this includes knowing where the fish was caught, who caught it and how it was processed.
  • Working to eradicate the impact of IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing by only using legally caught seafood from vessels regulated by a Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO).
  • Working with the ISSF to improve fishing practices using science-based initiatives.
  • Taking further steps to conserve and protect the health of marine ecosystems.
These efforts are also in place to ensure that sustainable canned tuna products, which are well below the safe guideline mercury level of 0.5 ppm, remain available as part of a healthy diet for future generations. 

Works Cited

Health Canada. (2011a). Mercury in Fish - The Science. Retrieved October 30, 2014, from Health Canada:

Health Canada. (2011b, January 25). Mercury in Fish - Question and Answers - Health Benefits of Eating Fish. Retrieved October 23, 2014, from Health Canada:

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, February 7). Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart. Retrieved October 1, 2014, from Mayo Clinic:

The Clover Leaf Seafoods Family. (2014a). Sustaining Fisheries. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from Clover Leaf:

The Clover Leaf Seafoods Family. (2014b). Tuna Sustainability. Retrieved October 24, 2014, from Clover Leaf:

The President and Fellows of Harvard College. (2014). Fish: Friend or Foe. Retrieved October 22, 2014, from Harvard School of Public Health - The Nutrition Source:

Tremblay, L. (2014). The Effects of Canned Tuna. Retrieved October 1, 2014, from Healthy Eating:

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