Advertisers seeking to make claim regarding farming methods must ensure that they hold documentary evidence to prove all claims, whether direct or implied, that are capable of objective substantiation.
Unqualified, absolute claims such as “environmentally friendly” or “sustainable” should be avoided because all managed food production systems cause some damage and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code requires that absolute environmental claims are based on the full life cycle of the product from manufacture to disposal (rule 11.4) – see Environmental Claims for more information.
Claims in relation to animal welfare often spark complaints. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received a number complaints regarding ads for eggs which showed images of hens outside, because viewers thought they misled by implying that the hens were “free range”. However, the advertiser provided evidence that the hens were “free range” and therefore the ASA did not find the ads misleading (Noble Foods Ltd t/a The Happy Egg Co, 6 April 2011).
As above, marketers should also take care to avoid any implied claims through imagery or wording (for example, animals being shown outside which may suggest they are free-range), as the ASA is likely to consider how the ‘average consumer’ would interpret an ad, and the implied claims may be taken as direct claims about the farming or welfare of the animals. In 2016, the ASA considered whether an Aldi ad, which showed a scuba diver surrounded by salmon in a river-type atmosphere, suggested that Aldi’s salmon were wild rather than farmed. The advertiser, who said that the ad itself was bizarre and not intended to reflect reality, said that the focus was on the fact the salmon was RSPCA assured, and they did not intend to make any direct or implied claims about the farming of the salmon. The ASA concluded that as the ad was fantastical, and the scuba diver was not shown trying to catch the salmon, overall the average viewer was unlikely to reach the conclusion that the salmon was caught in the wild (Aldi Stores Ltd, 11 January 2017).
Similarly, the ASA did not uphold complaints in relation to an image which accompanied the claim, “[Morrisons] standard chickens meet the Red Tractor Assured Standards”. The ASA concluded that although any depiction of chicken density in an enclosure would vary throughout the life of the birds, and the particular photograph demonstrated mature chickens approaching their largest size (at which point most room was afforded them), on the whole the image was an accurate depiction of the conditions those birds experienced, and therefore did not mislead (Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc, 20 May 2009).
In contrast, in 2010 the ASA upheld complaints against a press ad which described pigs as “outdoor bred”, because, although it accepted that the pig farming industry differentiated between “outdoor bred” and “outdoor reared”, it did not consider that the average consumer would be aware of its particular meaning. The ASA considered that consumers were likely to understand “outdoor bred” to mean that the pigs used to produce the product spent the duration of their lives outdoors, and because this was not the case, considered the ad misleading (Waitrose Ltd, 20 October 2010).
Claims regarding farming standards or marks need to make clear what specific standards apply, and be careful not to exaggerate the benefits of a particular system. Ads which promoted the Quality Pork Standard Mark and made the claim “British pig farms have very high welfare standards” were considered problematic because the context of the ad that implied a link between the quality of the meat and the standard of care of the pigs. The ASA considered the ads misleading because there was no clear guidance as to how to measure pig welfare across Europe, and because there was sufficient doubt as to whether the standard of welfare of pigs on all farms that signed up to the QSM could be described as very high (BPEX Ltd, 11 February 2009).
If a claim is comparative, rather than general or absolute, this should be clear. For example, in 2012, the ASA considered that the claim “Red Tractor Pork is high welfare pork” was problematic because the ad did not make clear it was a comparative claim with imported pork (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board t/a lovepork.co.uk, 29 August 2012). If advertisers wish to make comparative claims with identifiable competitors, they should be aware of rules 3.33 to 3.37, and CAP’s guidance on Comparisons: Verifiability.
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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