Developing safe mercury message

Friday, 13 January, 2006

The NSW Food Authority has been asked by the world's leading health body to help devise communication solutions so other countries can show people how to safely eat fish while reducing the risk from mercury.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) invited the Food Authority to participate in a Geneva-workshop following the success of the Authority's Mercury in Fish campaign, which recently won a national award for excellence.

Executive director of corporate and consumer services, Samara Kitchener, will outline how the innovative campaign dispelled misunderstanding about mercury in fish.

Acting director-general Terry Outtrim said many countries were struggling to inform consumers how to balance the healthy benefits of fish while reducing the risk from mercury.

"The Food Authority's Mercury in Fish campaign has been recognised as an international benchmark and that's exactly the type of expertise WHO wants to tap into," Outtrim said.

"Ms Kitchener has been invited to provide a summary of our work on risk communication and help prepare resource materials for use by countries around the world.

Outtrim said the Mercury Campaign, which was launched in May last year, showed pregnant and breastfeeding women how to enjoy the healthy benefits of fish, such as Omega 3, while reducing mercury.

"Unfortunately there was a great deal of fear and misunderstanding and our research showed many women stopped eating fish altogether and sacrificed all the great health benefits," Outtrim said.

"Our campaign provided science-based advice that was easy to follow, so women could make healthy choices. Mercury in fish is not an issue for the general population, and the campaign addressed this from the beginning.

"Key to its success was the support of a broad coalition of industry, consumer and medical groups, who joined the Food Authority to drive an important public health message.

"The Food Authority produced 500,000 wallet cards featuring the dietary advice, and these have been distributed across NSW by our partners, fish retailers and Coles Supermarkets."

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