A magazine ad for Berrimans Pet Food, seen on 25 January 2017, featured the headline “TOO MUCH PROTEIN IS BAD”. The main body of text stated “Science shows that protein obsession may be one of the main causes for the rise we are seeing in obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. After years of intense research the conclusion was diets high in animal protein have higher rates of chronic diseases (cancer, diabetes, heart disease and many other[sic] including irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel syndrome [sic] - that’s what we know for certain) … It is absolutely clear that an animal protein rich diet is associated with a shortened life span”.
All About Dog Food, an online dog food guide, challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that a high protein diet caused health problems in dogs.
Berrimans Pet Food Ltd stated that as a responsible pet food supplier they were responsible for providing information to their customers. They said that obesity levels were at 50–58% in all dogs and its impact led to chronic diseases in dogs.
They stated that they believed the information in the article was not misleading as it had been acquired through gold standard research along with studies where randomised trials had been conducted on rats which specifically compared protein heavy diets to ones without animal protein. They stated that every large scale scientific study had the same correlations linking animal protein and stated that they offered over 15 bibliographies and references to scientific studies. They said that the conclusions were supported by numerous scientific studies over many years in multiple countries.
The ASA considered that consumers would interpret the claims in the ad to mean that diets that were rich in animal protein had negative health implications for dogs and could lead to chronic illness and a shortened life span. In the context of an ad for Berrimans Pet Food, we considered consumers would understand that the advertiser’s products provided a lower protein alternative.
We noted that Berrimans Pet Food had referred to scientific studies that compared animal protein diets against non-animal protein diets, which they believed supported the claims regarding the effects and health implications associated with animal protein-heavy diets. However, they had not provided us with any substantiation for the claims. In the absence of documentary evidence, we concluded that the claims were misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Berrimans Pet Food Ltd not to repeat the claims made in the ad unless they held documentary evidence to support them.