Pregnant women concerned about the health of their unborn children should be careful about how much shark and swordfish they eat, food and health watchdog groups said Friday.
THE WORLD HEALTH Organization in Geneva and the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome cut by half the recommended intake limits for expectant mothers of methylmercury, a toxic chemical found especially in predator fish.
A group of experts, known by its initials JECFA, cut the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake, or PTWI, of methylmercury from 3.3 micrograms per kilo of bodyweight to 1.6 micrograms on the basis of new information on the effects of the chemical, the most toxic form of mercury.
WHO and FAO said in a joint statement that the reduction would ensure protection of the developing fetus, which absorbs the contaminant from food eaten by the pregnant woman.
WHO officials said all fish have low levels of methylmercury but predators have more because they eat smaller species. The nutrient value of all fish as a food for humans normally outweighs the possible danger.
Although not widely consumed in central and northern Europe and North America, swordfish and some varieties of shark are an important source of food around the Mediterranean and in coastal areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America.