Eating healthy is awfully confusing these days. It seems like each time a particular food is singled out for its health benefits, a subsequent study reveals potential health dangers from consuming it. It's usually a matter of contamination from pesticides, hormones, or infectious agents. With everything from meat to fruit potentially suspect, it's no wonder organic food businesses like Whole Foods
A recent series in the Chicago Tribune on mercury contamination in fish highlights the complicated choices consumers face. The last part of the series dealt with canned tuna, a popular food in the U.S. Tuna has been known to be contaminated with mercury since 1970, but the Tribune's series could stir up new concerns. And that could be bad news for tuna sellers, among them Del Monte Foods
Tuna is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Both have many health benefits, and omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk of heart disease. At the same time, the presence of mercury is problematic. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that tends to remain in the body. Studies indicate that mercury, in high enough doses, can stunt development in young children and cause neurological problems in children and adults.
The Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency have responded to the mercury issue by classifying different tuna types based on mercury content, and cautioning consumers -- especially pregnant woman and children -- from eating too much albacore, which is classified as a "high-mercury" tuna. The Tribune indicates, though, that the mercury rating system is essentially meaningless because some "high-mercury" tuna is sold under the same name as "low-mercury" tuna.
Nor is the Tribune alone in suggesting current regulations are inadequate. The American Medical Association is calling for improved warnings on tuna.
Perhaps most significant of all, the state of California is suing Del Monte and other tuna companies to force them to place warning labels on tuna cans.
Warning labels are never good for sales. And if California succeeds, it's hard to imagine the warning will not eventually become mandatory nationwide. Given the risk to its tuna business, Del Monte may be one stock investors should avoid.
More On Del Monte:
Whole Foods is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation.
Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.