Food inspection agency comes to the support of sea food industry

The agency that keeps track of food contaminants insists that fish sold in domestic markets complies with national and international health standards.

The statement comes after a local environmental organization made public doctoral research from Virginia that said shark meat sold in San José and Heredia can contain high levels of mercury.

The Programa Nacional de Residuos en Alimentos de Origen Animal did not mention the research specifically. The agency, which is part of the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería, cited undefined national and international standards to say that sea food on sale does not constitute a health risk. It said that the  Laboratorio Nacional de Servicios Veterinarios takes samples for analysis.

The researcher is Jason R. O’Bryhim, who studied the shark trade for his doctoral dissertation at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Among the goals, he said in the dissertation abstract, was that knowledge about contaminants might reduce the demand for shark meat and aid in the conservation of threatened species.

His work was distributed a week ago by the environmental organization the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas.

O’Bryhim reported that he and a colleague collected 170 shark, ray, and fish muscle tissue samples from Costa Rican markets in San José and Heredia over a five-day period in September 2014.

They analyzed the amount of total mercury in each sample using standard U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved procedures.

“It is very concerning to find that samples for three shark species tested exceeded U.S. health guidelines,” said O’Bryhim in a release issued by the local environmental organization.

“Silky sharks are a special concern since they account for 70 percent of all the shark sold to the public in those markets and a number of the samples tested exceeded the U.S. health threshold.”

Anyway, said the Costa Rican agency, residents here do not eat on average more than three kilograms a year of sea food, which is equivalent to 58 grams a week.

The agency cited this data from another government agency, the Programa Integral de Mercadeo Agropecuario, and from the Centro Nacional de Abastecimiento y Distribución de Alimentos, a marketing organization.

And, said the agency, when products are encountered that exceed the maximum limit appropriate sanitary measures are taken.

The agency also said that other studies have shown the benefits of eating sea food outweigh any risks. It did not say it had analyzed any recent tests.

O’Bryhim and his associates were specific in the mercury content of the samples they obtained. They also noted that they were evaluating shark meat. Other species lower on the food chain have less mercury, the report said.

“This is yet another reason why Costa Ricans should reduce their annual consumption of 2,000 tons of shark meat, most of which consists of silky shark chops,” said Randall Arauz of the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas and the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Don’t eat shark. Mercury contamination is a known risk to women and children,” he said in the release.

Mercury in fish is not new. U.S. residents have been discouraged for years from eating swordfish because it accumulates mercury. Tuna is high in mercury, too.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges pregnant women to eat fish like tilapia that are lower in mercury.

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