The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs is advising California-based shelf-stable tuna company Safe Catch to modify or discontinue some of its advertising messages.

The review of the company's marketing messages was prompted by a challenge from the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), the largest seafood trade association in the United States. It represents a wide range of seafood companies, including those selling leading shelf-stable tuna brands Bumble Bee, Starkist and Chicken of the Sea.

Safe Catch is not a member of the trade group.

While the NAD found a number of Safe Catch marketing claims did indeed hold up to scrutiny, it also identified several that it found misleading.

The NAD determined that Safe Catch provided a reasonable basis for its claims that every tuna used to make Safe Catch tuna products is tested for mercury, including the phrases "every tuna mercury tested," "only Safe Catch tests every fish for mercury," and "the only brand to test every fish for mercury."

Further, the NAD determined that testing to a strict mercury limit and providing consumers with that information is consistent with the goals of the US Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the United States Department of Agriculture to balance health benefits and risks by encouraging consumers both to eat fish and to consistently limit their exposure to mercury.

The full list of claims approved by the NAD includes:

  • Claims that every tuna used to make Safe Catch tuna products is tested for mercury.
  • Claims that its tuna has the "lowest mercury" and "lowest mercury limit" of any brand.
  • "100% Sustainably Caught Wild Tuna."
  • "Meets Consumer Reports 'Low Mercury' Criteria set for sensitive populations, such as pregnant women and children."
  • Its "healthier" tuna claim as it appears in the context of the packaging, which identifies that one of the ways in which the product can be considered "healthier" is that it is the "lowest mercury tuna."
  • The "averaging 22x lower than the FDA mercury action limit" claim as to both Safe Catch Elite (all skipjack tuna) and Yellowfin.

However, NAD determined that the marketing messages challenged by NFI, including a "why test every tuna" graphic, "reasonably conveys the unsupported and falsely disparaging message that other commercially available brands of canned or pouched tuna use fish that fall into the "red fish" category and that such fish are dangerous because of their mercury levels and that they are impure," the NAD said.

The full list of claims NAD recommended Safe Catch modify includes:

  • The "8x lower than Albacore tuna (FDA)" claim on cans of Safe Catch Elite.
  • The "Why test every tuna?" graphic.
  • The claim "22x lower than the FDA's mercury limit" in the challenged social media post.
  • The claims "Safe Catch is the only seafood brand to align itself with the mercury standards of the medical community" and "our Elite Tuna has a strict limit that averages two times lower mercury than the recommendation for pregnant women and kids," in the challenged press release.

Additionally, NAD recommended that Safe Catch discontinue use of the following marketing claims:

  • The reference to "athletes" in the "Safe Catch Elite" graphic.
  • The "better tasting" claim.
  • Endorsement claims by the American Pregnancy Association ("APA") that Safe Catch is the "only tuna endorsed by the American Pregnancy Association," and the "only seafood brand endorsed by the APA."
  • The "Best Choice-Clean Eating" and "Tuna Pick for Kids" claims.

Safe Catch stated that it "will comply with NAD's recommendations." It also said that although it disagrees with NAD's recommendation regarding its "8x lower than albacore tuna (FDA)" claim on cans of Safe Catch Elite, the company respects the self-regulatory process and will take all of NAD's recommendations into account for future advertising.