European Environmental Bureau

ZERO MERCURY - Key issues and policy recommendations for the EU Strategy on Mercury (December 2005)


Courtesy of Courtesy of European Environmental Bureau

Mercury is a highly toxic metal, causing damage to the nervous system even at relatively low levels of exposure. It is particularly harmful to the development of unborn children. It collects in human and animal bodies and can be concentrated through the food chain, especially in certain types of fish. The Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection has recommended that women who are breastfeeding or who are or might become pregnant should limit their consumption of large predatory fish, such as swordfish, shark, marlin, pike and tuna.

Once emitted, mercury has no respect for national or regional boundaries, travelling long distances through the atmosphere and contaminating both the European and global food supplies at levels posing a significant risk to human health, wildlife and the environment. Mercury levels have tripled over the past 150 years due to human activities. It is therefore clear that although progress has been achieved to reduce both anthropogenic mercury use and release, present measures are not sufficient to reduce mercury levels in certain fish and seafood to the point where they are considered “safe” to eat. For over a billion people, seafood is the primary source of protein and restrictions can result in substitution of less healthy types of food in the diet worldwide. Therefore, further actions must be undertaken to drastically reduce mercury pollution in order to bring mercury levels down to background levels over time and to preserve the viability of fish as one of the world’s most important protein sources.

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