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New questions about safety of tuna imports

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Tuna is the top fish on American consumers' plates and a favorite of children. But some imported canned tuna may contain far higher levels of toxic mercury than federal warnings indicate, a new study shows.

Among 144 cans of mostly foreign brand "light tuna" pulled off grocery store shelves nationwide and tested, the average mercury content was .269 parts per million (p.p.m), more than twice the average reported by the US Food and Drug Administration and far above the FDA's cutoff for fish deemed "low-mercury," the study found.

While mercury in fish isn't new, the study released Tuesday challenges the notion that "light tuna" represents little risk. "Despite the general view that light tuna contains less mercury than white albacore tuna, our results showed that mercury levels in chunk light tuna, depending on its origin, can be as high as and, in some cases far higher than, those in albacore tuna," said the study by Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Mercury Policy Project, nonprofit public interest organizations.

An industry spokesman for the US Tuna Foundation, which represents US producers, declined comment, saying he needed more time to review the study. But in a December 2005 response to a Chicago Tribune series on mercury in canned tuna, the foundation said "research in the US and abroad confirms that no one is at risk from the minute amounts of mercury in this popular food."

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