Context changes everything: this week’s Insight considers the likely interpretation of the term ‘organic’ in different contexts. When assessing ads the ASA takes in to account the impression created by the copy overall as well as specific claims within it. The context in which a claim appears will always be significant and the ASA considers the ad from the perspective of the likely effect on consumers. A word will be interpreted in different ways depending on what is being advertised and one term which has been considered in a number of different contexts is ‘organic’.

‘Organic’ has a specific meaning in the food industry and farmers who wish to ‘go organic’ must comply with strict criteria set out by statute. The ASA has upheld complaints against ‘organic’ claims where the advertiser did not provide documentary evidence showing that a food product was certified by one of the appropriate UK bodies (see the Organic foods AdviceOnline article).

Consumer understanding of the word ‘organic’ has changed over time and advertisers need to ensure that they are not misleading consumers. Advertiser must be careful to avoid using the word to imply that their non-food product has met similar criteria to an organic food product when this is not the case. The ASA has consistently upheld complaints against non-food products making ‘organic’ claims where the ad claims implicitly or explicitly that an independent standard has been met or where evidence that ingredients were ‘organic’ was not supplied (most recently regarding candles). The new AdviceOnline article Organic: General provides further guidance.

If a non-food product has been developed to a set of criteria, CAP recommends that the advertising copy makes clear which certification standard applies to their product in order that the ad does not imply that a single, independently defined or widely-recognised UK standard exists.

However, those advertising food products with organic certification should note that it does not give carte blanche in relation to claims. Evidence must still be held for environmental claims and advertisers must take care not to over state the situation; for example, ‘no pesticides’ may not be acceptable for all organic producers, but ‘fewer pesticides’ may be acceptable (see the new AdviceOnline article Organic: Pesticides). In some circumstance individual producers might find it preferable to focus on their specific processes rather than general statements. For example a specific producer may be able to claim ‘no pesticides’ because, in addition to Organic certification, they can show they do not even use the permitted pesticides.

The ASA has, in the past, been provided with appropriate evidence substantiating the claim that organically farmed animals experience high animal welfare conditions, but advertisers should avoid implying that, in all cases, organically farmed animals experience better conditions than non-organically farmed animals (see the new AdviceOnline article Organic: Animal Welfare).

It’s not just Organic food production that has been scrutinised by the ASA. Follow us on Twitter to look out for the new AdviceOnline article on Farming Methods which is coming soon.


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