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Simple new test makes seafood safer

New process for determining mercury levels in fish can help consumers make informed choices. “Today” contributor Phil Lempert has details.

You know that seafood is low in calories and a good source of protein; paradoxically it also contains levels of mercury that could be hazardous to your health. A solution to this dilemma could be a new process pioneered by Micro Analytical Systems Inc. (MASI) that allows large-scale mercury testing of seafood. After three years of research and development, this new system will be able to identify seafood that contains lower mercury levels.

In the United States, seafood consumption and certain environments exposes people to methylmercury, a chemical form of mercury. Although methylmercury is found in trace amounts in almost all people, consumption of seafood increases these levels, thereby increasing the chance of neurological impairment to adults, and causing damage to the neurological development of fetuses, infants and children.

The MASI Mercury Measurement System helps reveal the level of mercury present in every fish. The testing process consists of an operator extracting a sample from a fish and inserting the sample into the testing unit, which analyzes it for mercury content. If the seafood contains lower mercury levels than the government-supplied average, the company issues a certificate stating so. Consumers also will have access to a Web site to help them calculate the amount of mercury they have consumed in relation to government consumption guidelines.

"Seafood is a delicious and important part of a healthy diet, and most nutrition experts recommend that you eat it regularly, but it’s been a guessing game up until now when it comes to mercury," said Malcolm Wittenberg, the company's CEO. "We now can give consumers accurate mercury information about each piece of fish they purchase, and the tools to use that information."

The new technology will be used to introduce a line of lower mercury-certified seafood in supermarkets under the Safe Harbor™ label by early 2006.

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