Wednesday, January 18, 2006

How to solve the problem of increased levels of mercury in our fish

Reduce the amount of mercury that makes it into the environment? No, that's not the PR way. The PR way is to run an ad campaign with the intended purpose of convincing people to ignore those pesky health advisories, even if you're an expecting mother and eating fish like tuna on a regular basis may increase the risk your child will be born with a birth defect.

From the Village Voice (via the Center for Media and Democracy)

On the radio ad the high-school-principal-like baritone booms: "According to the latest study, you should not eat any fish . . . and according to the latest study, you are a fish-faced idiot with an IQ lower than a tuna fish sandwich who will swallow the latest study—hype, line, and sinker . . . "

Part of notorious D.C. lobbyist Rick Berman's multimedia PR blitz, which includes an enormous midtown billboard and full-pagers in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, this ad played over the holidays on New York, Boston, and D.C. radio stations and is slated for rebroadcast on four New York stations. More sea-blue, three-sided billboards reading "Hooked on Hype?" are also planned for cities in Texas and on the West Coast in the next couple of weeks.

Berman's latest campaign is to convince the public that fears about toxic levels of mercury in tuna are wildly overblown. According to a spokesman at the Center for Consumer Freedom, of which Berman is the executive director (he also heads the PR firm Berman & Co.), overly cautious federal agencies are to blame for understating the amount of mercury-tainted fish a pregnant woman would have to eat before putting her fetus at risk for brain damage. For years, the FDA and the EPA have cautioned children, pregnant women, and those who might become pregnant to avoid eating more than about one serving of white albacore tuna a week and to abstain altogether from four types of large, predatory fish that test high in mercury.

The website is funded by private (undisclosed) donors from the food industry, which reminds me, I really need to get around to reading Marion Nestle's Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.

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