Tuna, long a staple of lunchtime sandwiches, went off the menu for many Americans in 2004. That was when the EPA and FDA jointly came out with guidelines warning young children and women who were pregnant, nursing, or might become pregnant, to limit their consumption of albacore due to the presence of methylmercury in the fish. Some recommendations suggested intervals as long as two to three weeks between cans of tuna for average-sized children, and 10 days for adults.
Concerns about danger to humans, as well as the environment, drove down tuna consumption. US per capita consumption of tuna in 2007 was a "mere" 2.7 pounds, or about seven cans of tuna over a whole year, according to HealthyTuna.com, a site established by Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, and StarKist, to increase tuna consumption.
But consumer concerns were largely unwarranted. Consumers misunderstood the EPA guidelines, which include a tenfold safety factor, according to Dr. Dariush Mozzaffarian, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, in a 2008 interview with Time magazine. If the limit is six ounces per week, you'd have to eat 60 ounces to be at risk. Also, the EPA sets safety limits based on potential risks to infants and newborns, not adults.
For tuna, the benefits outweigh risks, Mozzaffarian said. Omega-3s in tuna are more beneficial than mercury is harmful.
But it's hard to change people's perception of a food based on facts alone. That's why the three major tuna brands, Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, and StarKist, teamed up with the Tuna Council to promote tuna as a part of a modern, healthy lifestyle rather than something boring or, worse, dangerous.
The three brands joined forces to create the "Tuna the Wonderfish" campaign, which proclaims the health benefits of the fish, as well as the versatility and convenience of canned tuna. The site offers tuna-based recipes and “episodes,” which is their name for the various commercials hosted by an exuberant character named Joy. She also is featured in a slot-machine game to come up with recipes based on the combination of "TUNA WHEN!" "TUNA HOW!" and "TUNA WITH!" You can then share the recipe through email, Facebook, or Twitter with just a click.
The companies spent about $15 million on the campaign, including the site, television commercials, print advertisements, and reaching out through the Internet with ads. That's $5 million more than what the three spent altogether in 2009. Sales have already increased 4.23 percent over what they were one year ago for the first five months of the year. A consumer survey in April revealed “shifts in perceptions of tuna’s healthfulness, including the beliefs that ‘it helps you live longer’ and ‘it is good for the heart.’ ”
Consumer feedback has been quite promising, as those who have been exposed to the Wonderfish “campaign are buying more tuna and are 30 percent more likely to try new ways to prepare tuna than those who have not.” They bought an average of a can and a half more than their counterparts. Those figures demonstrate that teamwork and a well designed marketing strategy can really work wonders.
— Ariella Brown is a writer, editor, Web content developer, and social media coordinator.
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Unfortunately, there really is no way around each person doing his/her own homework to arrive at truly healthy choices. And, yes, healthier choices do tend to cost more. That's one of the interesting observations made by one of these "coupon moms" in http://adage.com/article/special-report-couponing/marketers-beware-coupon-mom/228640/ Though she has coupons for just about everything else, they are not available for fresh produce, and she does not want to feed her family processed foods.
It is truly a shame that we need to be so vigilant about our food. There is so much production involved in getting the food to our tables we can never be sure what we are eating and more healthy choices are often prohibitively expensive to the most vulnerable populations. Until there are stricter regulations in place we will all yield the unfortunate health consequences of the production of food inc.
The same site explains how shrimp circumvents the federal law requiring Country of Origin Labeling," or COOL that went into effect in 2008:
"Under the federal Country of Origin Labeling Law, also known as COOL, labels on fresh seafood are required to tell consumers where the fish was farmed or wild-caught. Unfortunately, nearly 50 percent of the shrimp found in grocery stores have no label because they have been processed , boiled, breaded or added to a seafood medley , and thus are exempt from labeling requirements."
And of course cigarettes carry ridiculous warning labels. Anyone who hasn't gotten the message by now that cigarettes will kill you isn't going to get the message.
Shrimp is required to bear a label stating its country of origin, but that label is often very fine print indeed. The information is important to consumers because foreign shrimp is often grown with hormones not permitted in the US.
There were suggestions that tuna packages bear warnings about mercury levels, but that never came to fruition, as far as I know. The only clear warnings I recall seeing on labels is on diet sodas that contrain aspartame for people who have phenylketonuria (though some say it is dangerous for everyone). Of course, anything that contains alcohol carries a government mandated health warning in the US that usually reads as follows:
“GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems”.
This is exactly the issue with so many foods there should be better guidelines when any food is restricted but unfortunately its left up to interpretation that can cripple certain industries. This is also the case with food contamination plagued products from sprouts to meats. The warnings and restrictions should be more clearly communicated.
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