Portugal “evaluating” Spain’s warning against consumption of tuna and swordfish for pregnant women and children

Portugal is said to be at the final stages of evaluating whether Spain’s warning against the consumption of swordfish and tuna for pregnant women and children should be sounded here.

The warning – put out last month – actually also covers shark meat, dogfish and pike/ perch.

It came following tests that confirm high levels of mercury in these species of fish – mercury being toxic to humans in excessive levels and particularly prejudicial “at times when the brain is developing” (ie in foetuses and young children).

The EU has a fairly relaxed policy on health warnings of these kinds – leaving it very much to member states to decide their own courses of action. But, as Público explains, it has stressed that countries should be researching into risks if their populations regularly consume species of fish and/ or shellfish with a high level of mercury.

Thus in Portugal, a working group made up of technicians from ASAE, the general directorate of veterinary sciences (DGAV), the Doutor Ricardo Jorge national institute of health (INSA), the sea and atmosphere institute (IPMA), and Porto University’s Faculty of nutritional sciences (FCNAUP) “has been evaluating the exposure of the Portuguese population to this contaminant, as well as making a risk-benefit evaluation”.

Concerns clearly are that people may suddenly feel a message to keep away from fish altogether, which neither Spanish authorities or those in Portugal seek to transmit.

To be fair, the Spanish warning has been sounded before. In 2011 pregnant women and children under the age of 3 were warned of eating fish with high mercury levels. The difference now is that the warning has been expanded to children up to the age of 10, with the proviso that those aged 10-14 should still avoid anything more than very limited consumption.

Talking to the Spanish press, Albert Goday, the chief of service in endocrinology and nutrition at Barcelona’s Hospital del Mar advised people to switch their diets towards fish that accumulate much lower levels of mercury in their systems, like ‘anchova’ (Bluefish), lobster, octopus, salmon, squid and trout.

Goday’s inclusion of ‘salmon’ is likely to refer to wild salmon, bearing in mind that farmed salmon has been found to have so many toxins that it has been dubbed ‘the most toxic food in the world’.

As to when the Portuguese ‘evaluation’ on whether or not pregnant women and young children should be advised to limit consumption of mercury-heavy fish, there is no real clue.
Público says simply that “the work of this (working) group is at the final stages and will result in recommendations that are properly sustained and adapted to the reality of Portugal”.

The paper explains that the reason swordfish, tuna, shark, dogfish and pike/ perch have been blacklisted is because these fish species absorb mercury through their gills in its most toxic form. The substance then accumulates in the fatty tissues. As they are fish that live a long time, they accumulate higher quantities of mercury and “offer greater risks for the health of habitual consumers”.

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