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Green Choices: Seafood Buyer’s Guide

Which labels to look for at the fish counter.

You may have decided to buy wild vs. farmed salmon but finding other sustainable seafood isn’t an easy task. At present the USDA has no organic certification program for seafood (an organic seafood label may mean nothing or that the fish was certified “organic” overseas). For sound environmental information, go the Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch websites. At the fish counter, look for the labels listed below.

Safe Harbor

Safe HarborLook for the MSC blue eco label. The independent, nonprofit Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certifies wild fisheries that are well-managed and sustainable. At present it does not look at farmed fish. All fish sold in the U.S. should contain less than the Food and Drug Administration’s safe methylmercury limit of 1 ppm, but not every fish is analyzed. Seafood with this label has been tested for mercury levels and has met Safe Harbor’s standard for that specific species—a threshold that’s lower than the FDA’s 1 ppm “action level” and the average mercury content level for that type of fish.

Health benefits: Reduced exposure to mercury, which may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.

Is it regulated? Yes. Only fish that have been tested for mercury and meet the standards get the stamp.

Keep in mind: The label does not necessarily mean that the fish you’re buying is low in mercury; it just means it’s lower than average for that species. For example, it’s prudent for pregnant women to avoid all swordfish (which is very high in mercury)—even that which bears the Safe Harbor seal.

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