The Organic Trade Board says it is “surprised and disappointed” at the decision of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to ban a high profile organic consumer advertisement.
Earlier this week the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that one of the two advertisements forming the initial stage of the Why I Love Organic campaign had breached the CAP Code on advertising.
The ad, which featured a man and his son in a pantomime cow costume and headlined “we love organic because we care about animals”, was challenged by a farmer and an agricultural surveyor.
In the ad, the man is quoted as saying: “I like to see myself as the brains of this outfit, even if my son doesn’t agree! But when he told me about organic, well, I never looked back. Organic means fewer drugs or antibiotics, it also means better conditions for animals so they get to thrive and grow more naturally. Surely that’s good for them and good for our peace of mind! We’re happy to pay a little extra for organic, because we believe that animals deserve a better life (this poor cow certainly does!)”.
The two complainants challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that animals farmed in a non-organic way experienced lower welfare standards than those that were organically farmed.
The Organic Trade Board (OTB), which commissioned the ad from London agency Haygarth, provided extensive evidence to support its claim that animals in organic systems benefited from high welfare standards, with strict rules on how animals are kept, stocking densities and use of veterinary drugs. It also pointed out that organic is the only form of farming defined by EU law.
Whilst the ASA agreed that the evidence provided by OTB showed that organically farmed animals experienced high animal welfare conditions, it said it had been unable to show “in all cases” that organically farmed animals experienced better conditions than non-organically farmed animals. On that basis, the ASA judged that the ad was misleading and must not appear again in its current form.
Responding to the ASA’s decision, the OTB said that it was “pleased that the ASA has acknowledged the high standards to which organic farmers adhere to”, but “very disappointed and surprised at the change in the ruling about our current press campaign”. It point out also that the advertisement was approved by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and adhered to ASA guidelines.
In a statement, the OTB added:
“Our aim has been to help consumers understand the many benefits of organic and what it means. In our press advert we had no intention of implying that no other cows have higher welfare standards, but simply to draw attention to the fact that no other farming system in Europe has higher animal welfare standards than organic – a point which the ASA ruling acknowledges.
“It appears the ruling is focused on individual cases and we appreciate some conventional farmers have high animal welfare standards. The press advert is about the industry as a whole and organic farmers have (and must adhere to) high standards of animal welfare that are simply not mandatory for all non-organic farmers. We also have a concern that if applied to other cases, this could rule out differentiation of any product such as free-range, if another product may sometimes be sourced from farms which comply with these standards.”
One leading organic industry commentator told Natural Products: “I am amazed by this decision. What is the point of having a service that pre-approves ad copy if the ASA then change their mind after the ad has been produced and run ? Were the ASA leant on by intensive farming or Big Food? It’s not quite the NOTW but it still smells funny.”
ASA Ruling: Industry says it’s time to stand our ground
The ASA ruling prompted an angry reaction from leading organic industry commentators
“I am incensed by the Advertising Standards Authority’s ruling against the Organic Trade Board’s ad.
Why are we letting the ASA impose such a poor ruling? Does the ASA have the ethical credentials to adjudicate on ethical issues? Does the ASA — a self-regulatory body of the advertising industry – have any legal powers? What would be the worst that could happen if the OTB said: thanks, but we do not agree with your ruling?
Standing our ground would give the public an opportunity to learn more about the benefits of organic farming. It might also encourage the ASA — at a time when self-regulatory bodies are losing public trust – to be more transparent.”
Elisabeth Winkler, food writer and campaigner
“The Organic Trade Board invested in advertising that stated ‘Organic means fewer drugs or antibiotics, it also means better conditions for animals so they get to thrive and grow more naturally.’ The ASA stopped this because somewhere there might be a lucky cow or chicken that enjoys conditions as good as on an organic farm. Replace ‘also’ with ‘generally’ and you have an ad with the same powerful message. But what a pedantic and trivial distinction. What a pain!”
Craig Sams, president Green & Black’s
“I am amazed by this decision. What is the point of having a service that pre-approves ad copy if the ASA then change their mind after the ad has been produced and run? Were the ASA leant on by intensive farming or Big Food? It’s not quite the NOTW but it still smells funny.”
Leading organic industry consultant