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  1. Environmental Contaminants in Food

Mercury in Food and Dietary Supplements

Advice About Eating Fish - Chart

Advice about Eating Fish

For Those Who Might Become or Are Pregnant or Breastfeeding and Children Ages 1 - 11 Years

Mercury may be present in food because it is in the environment. Mercury may occur naturally in soil, air, and water, but levels can vary depending on the environmental makeup of local areas. For example, mercury can be distributed in the environment from natural sources such as volcanic activity and geological weathering. The levels of mercury in the environment are often higher because of pollution from human activities such as fossil fuel combustion, manufacturing, and small-scale gold mining.

Methylmercury, one type of mercury, is formed by microscopic organisms and is the most widespread form of mercury in the environment. It is also the most potentially harmful form of mercury and can be toxic to people of any age or health status.

The FDA monitors and regulates levels of mercury in foods, including dietary supplements, and cosmetics. While eating seafood is the most common way people in the U.S. are exposed to mercury, most types of seafood do not have levels of mercury that would result in health effects for adults. To help those who are or might become pregnant or are breastfeeding, as well as parents and caregivers choose fish that are nutritious and lower in mercury, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued advice on eating fish. This advice supports the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The FDA’s goal is to limit consumer exposure to mercury, with a focus on protecting the very young, through developing regulations, setting action levels, and issuing advice to consumers. The agency considers the health effects of the ‘whole food’, which includes the potential harmful health effects of specific contaminants that may be present, as well as the food’s nutrients that are vital to growth and development for babies and small children and help promote health and prevent disease throughout our lifespan.

For more information about our specific activities to reduce exposure to arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium from foods consumed by babies and young children please visit the FDA’s Closer to Zero page.

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