A TV ad for McDonald's, seen on 9 June 2015, showed seven cows in a large, open field.
A viewer, who understood that not all the cattle in the advertiser's supply chain had access to outdoor fields, challenged whether the portrayal shown in the ad of cattle in outdoor fields was misleading and could be substantiated.
McDonald's said the cattle that provided beef to their supply chain came from more than 16,000 British and Irish beef farms and that 82% of the cattle had access to outdoor grazing fields. They said the livestock entering McDonald's supply chain was made up of 15% young bulls; 25% dairy cows and 60% cattle raised specifically for beef production. In respect of dairy cows, they cited figures published by the Food Ethics Council that 10% of the UK dairy herd were kept in zero-grazing systems, from which McDonald's deduced that 90% had access to outdoor grazing fields. For cattle raised specifically for beef production, McDonald's said all should have had access to outdoor grazing fields. They had been unable to obtain exact information relating to young bulls but, given that dairy cows and cattle raised specifically for beef production accounted for 85% of their supply chain, they believed the portrayal was representative.
McDonald's said cattle with access to outdoor grazing fields were typically turned out from April until the end of September each year, depending on the availability of grass, the topography of the farm and the weather. They said it was standard practice in the UK and Ireland for cattle for beef production with access to outdoor grazing during the summer months to remain in a field during the day and night, but that individual farmers would make a decision according to availability of grass and weather conditions. They said all the farms followed industry standards that met EU legislation as a minimum and were independently approved by the nationally recognised farm assurance schemes – Red Tractor in the UK and Bord Bia in Ireland – who conducted regular checks to ensure farmers met industry standards for animal health, welfare and traceability and whose schemes contained specific standards relating to the living and housing conditions of cattle. McDonald's said stocking density was in line with recommended industry guidelines set by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which stipulated that stocking rates for cattle aged 12–24 months should be between 0.6 and 1.5 animals per acre.
McDonald's said the ad showed one of the beef farms which supplied them and was representative of other beef farms that provided beef for their supply chain. They therefore believed the conditions shown had not been exaggerated or idealised. They said, at the time of filming, the field was part of a 40-acre block of fields holding 40 cattle in total, which was a stocking density in line with recommended industry guidelines. They therefore considered the part-field shot of the field and the number of cattle depicted in it was accurate and representative. They pointed out that the ad did not exclusively depict cows in an outdoor grazing field but spent an equal duration of time depicting cattle in a shed, which they said was representative of conditions when cattle were not in a field. They supplied statements from the beef producing and processing companies which said the majority of cattle entering McDonald's beef supply chain had had access to outdoor grazing; that all the farms from which their beef was sourced were accredited to nationally recognised farm assurance schemes; and that filming had taken place on a farm that was representative with regard to indoor cattle housing and outdoor access to grazing fields.
Clearcast said they had asked whether the farm on which filming had taken place was representative of a typical McDonald's beef farm and were satisfied from the substantiation supplied by McDonald's that the conditions shown in the ad were representative of the conditions in which the cattle used for beef in their burgers were reared. They pointed out that the cattle were not shown exclusively grazing outside and that the ad referred to "the kind of cow McDonald's use" not "all cows".
The ASA noted that the ad showed cattle both grazing outside and being housed indoors. We considered it showed the animals in a stylised manner and that, by showing them being housed indoors as well as grazing outside, it suggested to viewers that outdoor grazing was only part of the way in which cattle were kept. From the information supplied by McDonald's and Clearcast, we noted that not all cattle in McDonald's supply chain had access to outside grazing. The information did not contain figures for the proportion of cattle that would have access to outside grazing other than the 90% of dairy cows, which made up approximately 20% of the supply. We noted that the Red Tractor and Bord Bia documentation did not specify the proportions of time cattle were to spend housed indoors or grazing outside respectively. We also noted the assurances provided by McDonald's and the beef producing and processing companies that the farm shown in the ad was representative of the farms from which McDonald's sourced their beef. However, we considered those assurances could not in themselves be accepted as conclusive evidence for the amount of access to outdoor fields that the cattle in McDonald's supply chain had.
While we considered that the evidence McDonald's had supplied related to only a relatively small proportion of the cattle that went into their beef supply chain – dairy cows – having access to outdoor fields for grazing, from the information provided it appeared likely that at least some of the cattle raised specifically for beef production, which made up a larger proportion of the supply chain, also had access to outdoor grazing. Therefore, because we considered the ad suggested to viewers that outdoor grazing was only part of the way in which cattle were kept, we considered McDonald's and Clearcast had supplied evidence that was sufficient to substantiate that the portrayal used in the ad was representative, and concluded that it was not misleading.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Advertisements must not mislead consumers by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that consumers need in context to make informed decisions about whether or how to buy a product or service. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead consumers depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the advertisement is constrained by time or space, the measures that the advertiser takes to make that information available to consumers by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is 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), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.