April 11, 2010


It seems I've been blogging in my head and not actually writing and posting my thoughts. These recent thoughts (which have yet to be written) all seem to be about food. It makes sense, really, since I'm a mom and in charge of feeding my family something somewhat nourishing.

My journey with this blog has been to share things I learn about relating to the health of my family and the environment—so naturally food fits right in there.

I'll skip straight to today's food dilemma: tuna.

My son recently discovered that he liked tuna salad sandwiches. I love it too, but had actually been avoiding it because of issues with mercury and also with BPA in the cans. Surely there is some small quantity of it that would be okay?

I found this information on the NRDC website:

"Since children get most of their mercury from canned tuna, it is important for parents to limit their children's consumption to less than one ounce of canned light tuna for every 12 pounds of body weight per week, in order to stay below the level of mercury the EPA considers safe. That means that a child who weighs 36 pounds should not eat more than 3 ounces (half a standard-sized can of chunk light tuna) per week. Children should avoid albacore or white tuna because the levels of mercury are higher."

At the store earlier today I had found 2 kinds of tuna at the store that looked interesting.

This first one is a brand I've loved for a long time. The quality seems good and I like that it is local. I hadn't known about the albacore being higher in mercury. So I looked at the Dave's website and learned that the albacore they catch is much safer because they use smaller, younger fish from colder waters. These fish have not built up the mercury levels that the older, larger albacore have. I also read on their website about the differences between their tuna and national brand tunas. They have completely sold me! I'm feeling much better about serving their tuna. You can even see pictures of each of their fishing boats online.

The second kind of tuna I found at the store today was Wild Planet. I haven't tried this brand yet, but the label sure got my attention since it addressed many of my concerns.

But the real test will be if the tuna sandwich gets eaten in his lunch.


Lisa B said...

Was this at Whole Foods?

mom go green said...

lisa, but of course. if you're a tuna fan it might be worth looking into.

Chris L. said...

As someone whose only hard and fast ethical rule regarding food is to not eat seafood, I would like to give a few perspectives that you may have overlooked -

Tuna are a top level predator - they eat fish that eat fish that eat plankton, and thus aggregate mercury much more than fish lower on the food chain.

Top level predators tend to take longer to mature, and need a long time to reach sexual maturity. By choosing younger fish, your impact on the overall population is greater because you are selecting fish that haven't had time to reach sexual maturity and reproduce. If this company is only using young albacore, you have to wonder what they're doing with the older ones they catch.

Tuna are commercially caught using methods that catch and kill many unwanted sea animals. Albacore tuna are caught using long lines and purse seines. Long lines, for example, catch and kill sea turtles and sea birds, as well as all sorts of unwanted and unusable fish. A 2002 study in the West Indian ocean found that more than 40 fish species and other marine animals were caught in studied seines. Among them only two species, yellowfin and skipjack tunas, were target species. While albacore is ostensibly a healthy fishery, many of the birds, reptiles and fish caught in pursuit of those tuna are in much worse shape.

Its worth noting that the end for animals caught on longlines is not pleasant. The animals are left to die from injury or exposure, or in the case of Tuna that need to swim to breathe effectively drown to death. Your albacore may have enjoyed life prior to its death, but that death is likely to be excruciating.

As a wild species, tuna are subject to tragedies of the commons - an economic principle that predicts the overconsumption of resources which are used by many and owned by no one. Apart from farmed fish - which have their own adverse impacts - there is no such thing as a sustainable fishery.

I gave up seafood entirely while in marine science school in the late 90's. Tuna fish salad was the only sea product I really missed. My partner, however, has all sorts of recipes that she has made using vegetable products. Recipes for "tunafish" salad made from chickpeas, tempeh or tofu are easily found on the internets.