Marketing mercury to women. A new low for the canned tuna industry

By March 5, 2011Got Mercury?

Commentary by Buffy Martin Tarbox

A new marketing campaign directed at women to buy and eat more tuna was unveiled this week by three major canned tuna companies, Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and StarKist. Called Tuna the Wonderfish, this multi-million dollar marketing effort involves television, Internet and print advertisement placement with a dangerous message to eat more tuna.  And guess who Tuna the Wonderfish is directing their message to eat more tuna at?  Women of childbearing age, the very same population that food safety officials, medical professionals, public health organizations and scientists have said should limit their consumption of tuna.

Not once, does the Tuna the Wonderfish campaign mention the published science that canned tuna contains mercury levels women and children should be concerned about.  Not once does Tuna the Wonderfish reveal that mercury, one of the most toxic substances known to humankind is abundant in canned tuna.

Targeting women for profit at the expense of their health is irresponsible and shameless.  In their own press release they cite the motivation for Tuna the Wonderfish is profit.  From the press release:  “Canned tuna sales took a hit in 2004 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency warned pregnant and nursing women and young children to limit consumption of albacore tuna to six ounces per week due to the health risks associated with the neurotoxin methylmercury. But many Americans misinterpreted the advisory, and some stopped buying canned tuna altogether.”

Americans are not so stupid that they misinterpreted the federal advisory about canned tuna.  They stopped buying canned tuna because like they are concerned about the health and welfare of themselves and their families.  And for good reason.

Recent studies published in peer-reviewed journals have shown that canned tuna contains higher amounts of mercury than previously thought. Another study found that over one third of total mercury exposure in America comes from eating tuna.  Good Housekeeping magazine and Consumer Reports have issued statements in the last few months suggesting women and children to not eat canned tuna at all due to concerns about mercury levels.

Seems the only people who think canned tuna is a healthy option are the ones who stand to benefit financially by selling Americans a toxic product.

In a Tuna the Wonderfish commercial, the spokesperson claims “Tuna is good for your heart.”  Guess the ad creators and tuna companies were not aware of the volume of studies showing that eating mercury contaminated seafood actually contributes to heart disease.

Another Tuna the Wonderfish claim is that “Tuna is good for your brain.”  Never mind the science that mercury is a neurotoxin and affects brain function, especially the brains of developing babies and has even been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Peddling toxic canned mercury to women and neglecting to mention mercury levels and the hazards of eating mercury-laden fish is going too far.

Numerous studies published in peer-reviewed journals clearly demonstrate the harmful effects of eating mercury-laden seafood. Those studies have found babies exposed to mercury through the mother’s consumption of seafood scored lower in skilled tests.  Other studies have linked mercury to low birth weight, heart disease, and dementia.  According to the EPA the number one source of mercury exposure is eating mercury-contaminated seafood

It seems the only group that believes mercury in canned tuna isn’t a problem is the $75 billion-a-year seafood industry represented by their trade group whose mission is to promote seafood consumption, the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), and the Center for Consumer Freedom originally created by the alcoholic beverage industry to sabotage Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s work to strengthen drunk driving laws.  The Center for Consumer Freedom has joined forces with NFI to undermine the public health message of federal food safety officials for women and children to avoid or limit consumption of mercury-laden seafood.

Unlike NFI and the Center for Consumer Freedom, has been a leader in the important public health issue of mercury in seafood since 2002. serves as a source of accurate and scientifically based information for people concerned about mercury in seafood.  Our on-line calculator provides fish eaters with the best available data on how much mercury may be in popular types of fish based on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) guidelines.  This information helps fish eaters better protect themselves against the harmful effects of mercury exposure through eating seafood. is not an anti-seafood group.  We are anti-high mercury seafood and promote the message to avoid seafood that is high in mercury based on scientifically approved information and data.

Don’t be lured by slick advertisements of the tuna industry that a neurotoxin in your food is harmless and doesn’t exist in their products.

Who do you trust with your health when it comes to mercury in seafood?  A not for profit public health project with no financial incentive that uses the best available government and scientific data or the disingenuous marketing campaign of the canned tuna industry who ignores the science and wants to convince you that eating mercury-laden seafood is safe so they can fill their coffers?

We hope you will trust medical professionals and scientists who all agree that eating large amounts of canned tuna is harmful and won’t put your health and the health of your family in the hands of irresponsible and misleading advertisements from corporations who are willing to trade your health for profit.

Buffy Martin Tarbox serves as the Campaign Coordinator for the public health project,  She has worked nearly a decade on public health issues, including the American Cancer Society, where she led the successful campaign to ban smoking in most public places in the state of Nevada.