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Message Convergence as Reassurance about the Safety of the Food Supply Concerning African Swine Fever Virus
Foodborne illness remains a serious risk for consumers. Knowing their vulnerability to this risk makes audiences attentive to risk messages about food safety. Though much is known about risk and crisis communication responding to known cases of foodborne illnesses, less in known about reassuring messages that the food supply is safe. This study expands our understanding of message convergence by exploring how audiences react to convergent messages intended to reassure them that no risk exists. Focus groups observed and responded to a series of messages explaining that African swine fever, though a threat to the pork industry, is not a danger to consumers. Most focus group participants recognized and saw value in message convergence based on accurate science attributed to credible sources. The study concluded that message convergence is effective in promoting reassurance; however, message convergence cannot be fully effective or sustain its positive influence unless it is ethical, adapted based on continuous dialogue with and feedback from audiences, and maintained over time. Despite these rigorous demands, message convergence has clear potential as a communication strategy for providing reassurance to audiences about the safety of the food supply.
Keywords: Message convergence, foodborne illness, African swine fever, focus groups