The NSW State Government has launched a new campaign aimed at promoting the benefits of fish for pregnant women and their children. The campaign aims to dispel myths about mercury content in fish whilst highlighting the nutritional importance of fish consumption during pregnancy.
By way of background a recent survey commissioned by the NSW Food Authority found that 44% of women (aged 18-40) did not know what fish they should limit during pregnancy and breastfeeding, based on the survey results nearly 15,000 either stoped eating fish or dramatically cut their consumption because of concerns - this is why an educational campaign such as this is crucial.
As part of the campaign a new wallet card for pregnant women has become available to help them make the best possible choices about fish. These will be made available through GPs, midwives, dietitians, fish markets and selected supermarkets.
The campaign aims to dispel myths about mercury levels in fish while also highlighting the positive nutritional benefits that many species provide.
NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald, said mercury in fish was not an issue for the general population, but pregnant and breastfeeding women, and women who are planning to get pregnant, may want to limit their intake of a few species known to display higher levels of mercury.
High levels of mercury can potentially impact the development of the central nervous system in unborn babies and young children.
"A recent survey commissioned by the NSW Food Authority revealed 44 per cent of women aged 18 to 40 did not know which fish they should limit during pregnancy and breastfeeding," Mr Macdonald said.
"About 85,000 women in NSW give birth every year. Based on the survey results, nearly 15,000 either stop eating fish or dramatically cut their consumption because of concerns over mercury.
"As a result, those 15,000 women are missing out on essential nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, that help with the development of a child's nervous system.
v"This campaign is about sorting fact from fiction - and making sure women are armed with information they need to make the best possible choices for themselves and their young children."
Mr Macdonald today launched a wallet card for women planning pregnancy and those caring for young children. The card features scientific advice on how to safely include fish as part of a balanced diet.
"The card features recommended intakes of certain fish that may contain elevated mercury levels, such as shark (flake), billfish (broadbill, swordfish and marlin), orange roughy (deep sea perch), and catfish," Mr Macdonald said.
"There is no reason to cut consumption of any other type of fish beyond the normal recommended guidelines.
"The NSW Food Authority has produced 500,000 wallet cards, which outline how many serves per week of various fish species are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
v"These cards help ensure all women can get benefits found in fish, including omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin B12, iodine and high quality protein."
The following groups have given their support to the campaign:Australian Medical Association (NSW Branch).
Australian Consumers' Association.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
Australian Dietician's Association.
NSW Midwives Association.
Australian Breastfeeding Association.
Sydney Fish Markets, and
Master Fish Merchants Association of Australia.
"This campaign is an example of the NSW Government working with industry, community and medical groups to deliver an important health message to women across NSW," Mr Macdonald said.
The cards will be distributed throughout the State by doctors, midwives, dieticians, fish outlets, NSW Health and the other participating community groups.
Information about fish for pregnant women and young children can also be found on the NSW Food Authority website at www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and accumulates in the aquatic food chain. In other countries it's been found that pollution can increase mercury levels. However, most mercury in Australian waters occurs naturally and most fish in Australian waters have very low mercury levels.
Testing by the NSW Food Authority and NSW Health has shown no increase in mercury levels in fish over the past 10 years.