The Problem With Canned Tuna for Babies

a shelf of canned tuna products

We always knew something was off with the recommendations from the U.S. government to eat canned tuna. But we didn’t know just how off until we lifted up the boulder that is the FDA fish ranking system and found a lot of worms.

Those of you who were pregnant may remember that you were advised to limit your tuna consumption. That is because tuna contains moderate to high levels of mercury, a metal that once in water, is converted by microorganisms to methylmercury, a neurotoxin that builds up in fish and is known to cause brain damage.1 The most susceptible? Babies, fetuses in utero, and children.

While the FDA deems canned light tuna safe, that recommendation is for children older than age two. Why does this matter? Because the younger the baby is, the more susceptible they are to the cumulative damage of mercury.

Let’s get into some numbers.

Canned light tuna—the variety of tuna with the least amount of mercury—has an average 0.126 ppm mercury in it according to the FDA.

When the FDA published its fish recommendations (which lists canned light tuna as a “best” choice), Consumer Reports, an independent nonprofit, publicly denounced the inclusion of tuna as a good choice and declared that pregnant woman and babies should not be eating canned tuna at all.2 Why? Because 0.126 ppm mercury ain’t exactly low. 

In fact, there are at least 35 other fish in the sea that have less mercury than canned light tuna.

So why is the FDA recommending you offer your kids canned tuna? 

The short answer, in our opinion, is because the tuna and coal industries (coal plants emit mercury into the air) are very powerful. 

In the 1970’s when the FDA published their “action levels” for mercury and fish, the FDA initially set the action level at 0.5 parts per million, meaning that they would have legal authority to order fish with more than 0.5 ppm of mercury to be taken off the market. In response, the fishing industry, with the support of the coal industry, sued the FDA, arguing that their industry would face undue hardship. The fishing industry won and the FDA was forced to raise the action level for mercury in fish to an astoundingly high 1 ppm mercury, which conveniently let all tuna varieties stay below the action level.

In 2021 we released the world’s first fish guide for babies. It is a guide that reflects hundreds of hours of analysis by our team of doctors and food researchers. To arrive at our ranking systems we analyzed every fish by mercury levels, omega fatty acid content, and sodium levels. Then we put them through a rigorous filter of what is safe—and healthy—for babies as young as 6 months of age.

Spoiler: In the guide you’ll find 30+ fish that have less mercury than canned light tuna.

  1. Mercury Emissions: Global Context. Environmental Protection Agency. (website). Retrieved February 3, 2020
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