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The European Commission has put on hold plans to increase maximum authorised mercury level in fish


Methylmercury is a potent toxin and is able to cross the placenta as well as the blood-brain and blood-cerebrospinal fluid barriers. Critical targets for toxicity includes the kidney, liver, nervous system, immune system, reproductive and developmental system. Fish is the main source of methylmercury exposure for humans of all ages in Europe. The mercury content in these commodities varies widely among different fish species, and is in general higher in predatory fish such as shark and swordfish. Currently, the maximum authorised level of mercury is set at one milligram per kilogram of fish and the Commission had planned on doubling this to two mg/kg.

The new decision:
According to Foodwatch, the Commission's reason for plans to raise the maximum mercury level was purely economic. The current mercury limit is surpassed by 50% of large predatory fish, that therefore cannot be brought to the market. Foodwatch had organized an online petition against such plans that was signed by more than 80,000  citizen of Germany and the Netherlands.

Photo: Swordfish is often highly contaminated with mercury above the current
maximum authorised level

As the report from the meeting clearly indicated, Member State welcomed that the maximum levels for mercury in shark and swordfish will remain at the existing level. The Commission also stressed the importance of consumption advice related to mercury in fish in order to fully achieve the beneficial effects of fish consumption, whilst limiting the risk of mercury toxicity.

Related information

EUR-Lex: Maximum levels for mercury in certain foods have been established by Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 (see Section 3.3 of the Annex).

EUR-Lex: Provisions for methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of lead, cadmium, mercury, inorganic tin, 3-MCPD and benzo(a)pyrene in foodstuffs are laid down in Commission Regulation (EC) No 333/2007.

EFSA: Scientific Opinion on the risk for public health related to the presence of mercury and methylmercury in Food

Related EVISA Resources

Link Database: Mercury exposure through the diet
Link Database: Environmental cycling of methylmercury
Link Database: Environmental cycling of inorganic mercury
Link Database: Environmental pollution of methylmercury
Link Database: Environmental pollution of inorganic mercury
Link Database: Toxicity of mercury 
Brief summary: Chemical speciation analysis for nutrition and food science

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last time modified: November 27, 2023


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