Federal officials announced that they will recommend for the first time that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and young children eat a minimum of two servings of low-mercury of seafood every week for their health.
The recommendation comes from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which previously only set an upper limit on the amount of fish the aforementioned groups should eat.
The proposal, which will enter a public commenting period, suggests a weekly limit of 12 ounces (about three servings) of low-mercury seafood - such as salmon, shrimp, cod, tilapia and light canned tuna - for women. It encourages a minimum of two servings, or about eight ounces, which was prompted by an F.D.A. analysis that found that one in five pregnant women in the United States ate little or no fish at all.
Officials say they were concerned that pregnant and nursing women were missing out on the benefits of eating fish, citing studies showing that children born to women who consume fish have higher I.Q.s and better cognitive development than children born to women who do not. The FDA is also recommending that young children eat a weekly minimum of two fish servings, the size of which would vary depending on their age and weight.
However, some environmental groups criticized the new recommendations and demanded that the agency post warning labels about mercury content on packaged fish. Additionally, some doctors say the new advisory does not go far enough in encouraging greater fish consumption among pregnant women. By previously setting an upper limit on the amount of fish that should be consumed, they argue the federal advisory has scared many women away from eating any fish at all.
One large study of thousands of mothers and their children published in 2007, for example, suggested that pregnant women needed to eat a minimum of about three servings of fish per week to get the benefits for child development.