Whether because of a consumer demand to know more about the provenance of their food, or an advertiser’s wish to tell, in recent years there has been a rise in claims regarding farming methods and food production.

As with all ads, evidence must be held for all claims, direct or implied, written or visual. Complaints that ads which showed images of hens outside misled - by implying that the hens were “free range” - were not upheld because the advertiser was able to provide evidence that the hens were indeed “free range” (Noble Foods Ltd t/a The Happy Egg Co, 6 April 2011). As a general point, claims in relation to animal welfare often spark complaints.

Advertisers must be sure that the consumer ‘take out’ from the ad is what they expect and that the advertiser has made the claim clear. Although the difference between terms (for example “outdoor bred” and “outdoor reared”) may be understood within an industry they may not necessarily be clear to consumers and could mislead (Waitrose Ltd, 20 October 2010). If a claim is comparative, rather than general or absolute, this should be clear. For example, 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 are making comparative claims with identifiable competitors there are specific rules to follow (rules 3.33 to 3.37).

In addition to the general rules against misleading consumers, advertisers should keep the specific rules on environmental claims in Section 11 in mind and avoid unqualified environmental claims because all managed food production systems cause some damage to the environment.

Please see the new AdviceOnline article “Farming methods” for more guidance on this topic.

The AdviceOnline article “Organic foods” deals with the acceptability of claims for “organic” farming.

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