« March 2007 Table of Contents
Anne Forristall Luke
By James Wright
March 01, 2007
Washington, D.C., isn't known as a big seafood town, despite
its proximity to Chesapeake Bay, land of the blue crab. The
nation's capitol, however, is where business and government
assemble to develop industry-shaping policies.
major U.S. tuna canners - Bumble Bee, StarKist and Chicken of
the Sea, which together account for approximately 90 percent of
all U.S. canned tuna sales - are represented on Capitol Hill by
the U.S. Tuna Foundation. Last year the group hired Anne
Forristall Luke as its president, succeeding David Burney, who
retired after 10 years as executive director. Burney's swan
song at the USTF was the defeat of California's attorney
general in a Proposition 65 lawsuit last May. By winning the
Prop 65 case, tuna canners averted a state law that would have
forced them to label their product as containing a potentially
hazardous ingredient, in this case the neurotoxin
While Luke, 48, is a newcomer to the seafood industry, her
experience in government-relations is strong. She earned a
bachelor's degree in political science from Edinboro University
in Edinboro, Pa., in 1980. Prior to taking the helm at the
USTF, she was a principal
at MGN, an independent federal
government relations firm in
Washington that specializes in
legislative and regulatory strategy.
Her new role also requires a great deal of public relations
assuring American consumers that canned tuna should remain a
staple of their diets as it has been for decades. The USTF last
year launched a three-year, $5 million outreach campaign that
not only espouses canned tuna's healthy virtues but also
directly addresses common misperceptions about the health risks
of eating tuna.
I spoke with Luke in mid-January to talk tuna and find out
where the organization is heading.
WRIGHT : What is the most valuable thing you've learned in
your first year at the USTF?
FORRISTALL LUKE : How terrific a product we have and how
important seafood is to health, fitness and nutrition. I always
liked tuna, I always ate it, but I never thought about the
importance of seafood to a heart-healthy diet.
A key point is the quality of canned tuna at its price
point. It's a safe, healthy, affordable product. I've learned a
lot about obesity and heart disease and the threat these
diseases pose to public health, and also about American
consumers in general.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Fighting misperceptions about canned tuna. There has been a
tremendous amount of misinformation, and the essential message
about the health benefits of seafood has become clouded in many
peoples' minds. It's sort of like breaking through all the
clutter. It's a big challenge.
Is canned tuna unfairly linked to mercury because of its
popularity and affordability?
Yes. Canned tuna has been a staple of Americans' diet for
100 years. It is a very popular product and when Americans hear
misinformation [about mercury] they associate it with all
seafood, which is unfortunate. Some very important points get
lost in the confusion. Not eating enough fish is the real
How important was the Prop 65 ruling last year?
That decision was extremely important for the whole seafood
industry, and for consumers too. For the first time, the issue
of mercury was [independently] reviewed. Prop 65 did not apply
to canned tuna; it would not reach the [mercury] threshold that
Prop 65 covered. The healthfulness of the product was held up
in court. The impact of that decision, because it irrefutably
backed our claim, really adds to our overall message.
(California is appealing the Prop 65 decision. See Newsline,
Why is the USTF now based in Washington?
David Burney was [based] in San Diego for 10 years. Upon his
retirement, the USTF decided it needed its president in
Washington. As an industry we have to deal with policy issues
facing international trade, food safety, sustainability and the
like. The debates that focus on these issues happen in
What does the consumer campaign aim to do?
To help consumers understand they need to eat more fish and
that canned tuna is the most affordable, acceptable and
convenient way. The strategic public affairs campaign is
focused on consumers.
The USTF will also be actively encouraging government
agencies to follow through on recommendations made by the
Institute of Health, which found spillover effects caused by
confusion about the [federal government's] advice on mercury
and seafood consumption and whom it applies to. Government
agencies need to work together more efficiently to develop
clear communication tools for consumers and tailor the advice
We're putting our money where our mouth is. The member
companies are recognizing that we need to be more proactive in
reaching out to consumers. The campaign represents a much
higher level of financial commitment.
When can we expect to see a generic marketing effort for
tuna, similar to beef and pork?
We're trying to get the public affairs campaign off the
ground first. We hope about 18 months from now for the
category-growth advertising campaign to begin.
Will the message focus on health or attack misleading
Both. We want to spend our time talking about how great our
product is, but we also have a responsibility to answer
consumers' questions. Mercury is present in a lot of people's
minds, and in order to have credibility as spokespeople
advocating our product, we have a responsibility to answer
[questions] and we are eager to do that.
Assistant Editor James Wright can be