FDA recently denied a citizen petition that asked the agency to take numerous actions with respect to mercury in commercial fish. The requested tolerance limit would bring FDA's fish-related standards in harmony with EPA's stricter criteria for mercury in water.
GotMercury.org, an arm of the Turtle Island Restoration Network, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Stanford University Environmental Law Clinic, filed a citizen's petition (Docket No. FDA-2011-P-0484) on June 20, 2011, asking FDA to establish a stricter regulatory limit for mercury in commercial fish.
In more detail, the petition asked FDA to take the following actions:
- Replacing the FDA action level of 1.0 parts per million (ppm) mercury in fish with an action level, regulatory limit, or tolerance no greater than 0.5 ppm mercury in fish in order "to protect women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing women, children and the most vulnerable populations;"
- Enforcing the new action level, regulatory limit, or tolerance and/or prohibit the sale of seafood that contains mercury concentrations that exceed it;
- Revising the fish consumption advice issued jointly by FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2004 (FD A!EP A fish consumption advice) to reflect any new 0.5 ppm level;
- Requiring that the fish consumption· advice be posted at point-of-sale locations or on labels offish "known to be high in methylmercury;"
- Conducting "regular, widespread" testing of commercial seafood for mercury levels and make the results public;
- Revising the FDA concentrations in fish by conducting new mercury analyses of each fish species listed in the FDA database ("Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish"); and ·
- Modifying FDA's guidance to seafood processors (the Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance) by advising them how they can control for methylmercury.
In its response, FDA reviewed evidence bearing on the adverse effects that allegedly can result from exposure to methylmercury in the absence of extreme saefood consumption, including neurological effects, coronary heart disease, kidney failure, and genetic damage. For certain adverse effects, the petition included no evidence to support its assertions, so FDA relied on evidence of which the agency is aware.
FDA noted that 99.9 percent of adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been exposed to methylmercury below the Acceptable Daily Intake Level ("ADI"), which includes a 10-fold margin of safety. FDA has therefore seen no need to enforce the current action level to reduce exposure to methylmercury.
FDA then reviewed relevant case studies, published studies, and information provided in the petition. FDA concluded that the petition failed to provide sufficient evidence that commercial fish with more than 0.5 ppm of mercury pose a reasonable possibility of injury to the general population or to susceptible subpopulations (e.g., young children). In addition, FDA noted that there is substantial evidence that consumption of fish is associated with neurodevelopmental and other benefits, even taking into account potential exposure to methylmercury.
FDA also declined to require posting of the FDA/EPA fish consumption advisory at the point-of-sale because the petition did not provide a basis for a determination that such information is “material” within the meaning of section 201(n) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
FDA further argues that the better approach to risk management- and the one that is being taken- is targeted recommendations on how to obtain benefits that fish can provide to the fetus and young children while minimizing any effects from methylmercury.
Related Information GotMercury (Mills Legal and Environmental Law Clinic) - Citizen Petition FDA answer to petition BRI
- Report: Mercury in the Global Environment: Patterns of Global Seafood
Mercury Concentrations and their Relationship with Human Health Zero Mercury Working Group - Report: Mercury Contamination, Exposures and Risk: A New Global Picture Emerges, December 2012 Zero
Mercury Working Group - Report: An Overview of Epidemiological Evidence
on the Effects of Methylmercury on Brain Development, and A Rationale
for a Lower Definition of Tolerable Exposure, December 2012 Related EVISA Resources Link database: Mercury exposure through the diet Link database: Environmental cycling of mercury Link database: Toxicity of Organo-mercury compounds Link database: Research projects related to organo-mercury compounds Related EVISA News January 14, 2013: Mercury Levels in Humans and Fish Around the World Regularly Exceed Health Advisory Levels
December 9, 2012: Mercury in fish more dangerous than previously
believed; Scientists urge for effective treaty ahead of UN talks October 12, 2012: Prenatal mercury intake linked to ADHD
July 31, 2012: FDA Lands in Court Over Mercury in Fish June 17, 2012: Factors Affecting Methylmercury Accumulation in the Food Chain March 1, 2012: High levels of mercury in newborns likely from mothers eating contaminated fish October 15, 2011: Mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region -- nearly forgotten, but not gone August 16, 2010: Methylmercury: What have we learned from Minamata Bay? August 21, 2009: USGS Study Reveals Mercury Contamination in Fish Nationwide May 3, 2009: Ocean mercury on the rise February 11, 2009: Mercury in Fish is a Global Health Concern October 30, 2008: Precautionary approach to methylmercury needed
March 11, 2007: Methylmercury contamination of fish warrants worldwide public warning October 9, 2006: Linking atmospheric mercury to methylmercury in fish August 16, 2006: Mercury pollution threatens health worldwide, scientists say June 8, 2006: Methylmercury in fish: Can you cook it out ? February 17, 2006: Study shows link between clear lakes and methylmercury contamination in fish
February 9, 2006: Study show high levels of mercury in women related to fish consumption August 29, 2005: Is methyl mercury limiting the delight of
seafood ? - To answer this question is a challenge for elemental
speciation analysis January 12, 2005: Number of fish meals is a good predictor for the mercury found in hair of environmental journalists April 27, 2004: New kind of mercury found in fish April 27, 2004: FDA/EPA recommends pregnant women to restrict their fish consumption because of methylmercury content
last time modified: March 13, 2013