The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is urging consumers to eat more fish after two new surveys revealed that levels of pollutants such as dioxins found in fish are continuing to fall.
Pollutants in fish – dioxins and PCBs – can be particularly harmful to an unborn baby. They can also harm an adult if they build up in the body over time; long-term exposure may cause health problems including cancer.
But there are also health benefits to eating fish, and the FSA says that the results of the latest surveys – the most comprehensive undertaken in the UK – reinforce its advice that most people should eat at least two portions a week. One should be an oily fish, such as salmon, sardines or mackerel.
The average UK consumer eats only a third of a portion of oily fish a week, while seven out of ten don’t eat any oily fish at all.
‘We should eat more fish’
Dr Andrew Wadge, FSA Director of Food Safety, said: ‘The results of these surveys are good news. We don’t eat enough fish in Britain and we should be eating more. Eating fish is a good way to get protein and some essential vitamins and minerals, and oily fish…also gives added protection against heart disease.
‘[One of the surveys] has shown that some people who eat a lot of fish may need to think about eating a wider variety of fish and we are updating our advice to reflect this. There is also specific advice for pregnant and breast-feeding women and other groups – but everyone should be aiming to eat at least two portions a week, including one of oily fish.’
The FSA now recommends that girls and women of childbearing age should eat no more than two portions of oily fish a week. All other adults, and boys, should eat a maximum of four portions a week. Occasionally eating more than the guideline amount won’t be harmful.
The recent survey results have shown that some other fish and crab may also have similar levels of dioxins and PCBs as oily fish. These fish are sea bream, turbot, halibut, dog fish or huss and sea bass. The FSA says that anyone who regularly eats a lot of fish should consider eating less of these species, and more with lower levels of pollutants such as red snapper, haddock, coley or hake instead.
The food watchdog offers further advice on eating fish on its website.