'Wonderfish' coverage minimizes the 800-pound-methylmercury gorilla.

Posted by Brandon Moore at Mar 28, 2011 07:00 AM |

Three major canned tuna producers have teamed up to produce a new marketing campaign: Tuna the Wonderfish. The New York Times' detailed coverage describes much of the marketing campaign slogans, target audience and advertising distribution.

However, an underlying reason for this unusual joint marketing campaign is given drive-by coverage: only one paragraph in an unusually long article. Namely, canned tuna consumption has decreased due to concerns about elevated methylmercury levels in tuna and the potential health impacts of this toxicant.

The article only states the potential health impacts for pregnant, nursing mothers and children, while ignoring possible health effects on all other consumers. While it is crucial for people to understand the risks of methylmercury exposure during development, more should be said about the growing understanding of chronic adult exposures. The pollutant can affect the brain, the nervous system and the immune system in adults, too. Excessive exposure may impact attention, memory, and coordination, which could be permanent.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report – published jointly every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – states that "Individuals who regularly consume more than the recommended amounts of seafood should choose a mix of seafood that emphasizes choices relatively low in methyl mercury." In the report, albacore tuna is identified as seafood with high methylmercury content. This information would be of use to the readers of the article to better put the market campaign into its true context.

The author states that advertising campaigns uniting competing brands are not common. He cites a recent example of a group of soda manufacturers combining advertising for new, front-of-the-bottle calorie counts on their products. This "Clear on Calories" campaign is an industry response to anti-obesity campaigns and dietician criticism of excessive soda consumption. Similarly, the Wonderfish campaign and website by The Tuna Council of The National Fisheries Institute is, at least in part, a response to health advocates and consumer pressures. However, while placing soda caloric information of the front of soda bottles works to inform their consumers, the Wonderfish website and campaign make no mention of the methylmercury content of their product or the health implications.

The limited coverage of the methylmercury health issue within this New York Times article unfortunately mirrors the Wonderfish advertising campaign by ignoring the underlying crux of the push to "highlight the benefits" of tuna and minimizing or ignoring potential health issues associated with tuna consumption.


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