Safe Harbor: Marketing or Misinformation?

A quick review of the Safe Harbor Certified Seafood Web site reveals an attack on canned tuna that employs overt exaggeration and misinformation.

It begs the question-how low is Safe Harbor willing to go to push its product? It’s a product that is marketed as one designed to help protect consumers, but is apparently being promoted with half truths and innuendo rather than ground truth science and fact.

Safe Harbor claims- “canned tuna is consumed at alarming rates.” Fact — canned tuna consumption is down in this country and has been trending that way for nearly 5 years. The average American eats about 2.7 lbs of canned tuna a year. Meanwhile, consumers scarf down about 110 lbs of beef and 75 lbs of chicken annually.

Safe Harbor claims the “FDA cannot be relied upon to protect consumers from the potentially debilitating health effects of mercury in fish.” Fact — the only citation used for Safe Harbor’s dire warning is a five year old Mercury Policy Project report titled, “Can The Tuna: FDA’s Failure to Protect Children From Exposure to Mercury in Albacore White’ Canned Tuna.” Mercury Policy Project is a project of the Tides Center, which sponsors “forward-thinking activists.” No published scientific journal articles, federal reports, or qualified health organizations are referenced by Safe Harbor.

Safe harbor claims the FDA knows, but refuses to address the fact that, “levels of mercury in white’ (albacore) tuna are at least double the levels in light’ tuna.” Fact — FDA publicly posts the levels of mercury in seafood on its Web site and right there for all to see are the levels of both light and white albacore canned tuna, hardly a failure to “acknowledge.” The mercury levels for light tuna average 0.118 parts per million (ppm) and the mercury levels for white albacore tuna average 0.353 ppm. But what Safe Harbor fails to tell consumers is that both levels are far less than half FDA’s action level, 1.0 ppm.

So, let’s recap; Safe Harbor claims the “potential dangers” of canned tuna are evidenced by the fact that white albacore tuna contains more mercury than light-while both fall far below the FDA’s limit. And that the FDA refuses to “acknowledge or even address this”– despite the fact that it is acknowledged on its Web site and is furthermore addressed explicitly in the FDA/EPA mercury in seafood advisory.

That sounds more like misinformation than marketing.

Safe Harbor claims that hundreds of thousands of children, particularly those in low-income communities, are at risk for “mercury poisoning.” Fact — Scientific studies published within the last few years show that the benefits of eating seafood greatly outweigh concerns. Those that look at the population of pregnant women and their babies repeatedly show that moms who eat the least fish have babies with the poorest brain developmental outcomes. Unfortunately, federal data shows the average pregnant women eats 1.89 ounces of total seafood per week. And Neilson consumer research shows that approximately 4.4 million U.S. households earning $30,000 or less completely eliminated their purchases of canned tuna between 2000 and 2006.

And then things get weird. Safe Harbor interrupts its diatribe about mercury in canned tuna to launch in to what can only be called a paranoid rant of conspiracy theories claiming the “FDA’s apparent allegiance to the fishing industry” has endangered millions.

Safe Harbor makes the serious and unsubstantiated accusation that the FDA has committed what can only be described as fraud when it insists the FDA “skewed” findings as part of a “pattern” of behavior related to seafood issues.

Then the company scorns the tuna industry for caring “only about their bottom line.”

Fact – Safe Harbor foods is a federally registered and trademarked company that sells a “proprietary technology that makes possible the world’s first rapid, large-scale mercury-testing process…” that “…quickly and inexpensively tests seafood for mercury within the fish processing facility. “If you are a distributor, retailer or restaurateur interested in selling Safe Harbor seafood,” there is convenient contact information available on their website. How ironic that Safe Harbor aggressively defames the seafood industry, while their customer base is… the seafood industry.

If they’re misinforming consumers with non-science-based claims about these issues and relying on environmental extremists for research… what else might they be doing?