THIS RULING REPLACES THAT PUBLISHED ON 8 AUGUST 2018. THE WORDING OF THE ASSESSMENT HAS CHANGED BUT THE DECISION TO UPHOLD REMAINS.
A website for Sandbeck Farm, www.sandbeckfarm.com, seen on 22 November 2017 included a number of pages in a “FALABELLA HORSES” section. A page headed “FALABELLA FOALS 2017” listed a number of foals, some which were for sale. Each horse had an information section next to the listing which included various pieces of information, including the horse’s “stable name”, date of birth, “pedigree name”, “passport number”, the “sire” and the “dam”. Pages headed “FALABELLA FILLIES”, “FALABELLA MARES” and “FALABELLA STALLIONS” included the same information.
The Equuleus Falabella Stud, stated that many of the horses listed in the “Falabella” sections of the website were not on the Premier Register Of Falabella Miniature Horses (meaning the horses had had DNA tested from both parents and the bloodlines proven to be from Argentina only) and that some were part-bred, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
Sandbeck Farm provided copies of the International Miniature Horse and Pony Society (IMHPS) passports they held for specific horses that had been available via their website and the definitions of the Falabella categories on the IMHPS register. They said that not all Falabella horses had passports from the IMHPS, as keepers were able to obtain passports from other issuing authorities in EU Member states and therefore not all horses fell within the Falabella categories on the IMHPS register.
They said that DNA testing was only able to establish parentage of a particular horse and that it could not establish if a horse was of a particular breed. Further, they said that the parentage of a horse could not be proven by DNA alone, as the Falabella breed originated from the Falabella Ranch in Argentina where they were bred since before DNA testing existed, and not all horses from that herd had been tested. They provided two documents from testing clinics and a statement from an industry member which stated that DNA testing could only be used to establish parentage. They provided a statement from the founders of the IMHPS which provided background information on the Falabella breed.
The ASA understood that Falabella horses were a breed of miniature horse which originated from a single ranch in Argentina. We also understood that the horses were popular with a wide range of consumers and were not just purchased by those who were familiar with the equine industry. We considered that, in the absence of qualifications suggesting otherwise, consumers would interpret the inclusion of specific horses under the headings “Falabella horses”, “Falabella Fillies”, “Falabella Mares” and “Falabella Stallions” to mean that those listed were pure bred Falabella horses. This impression was reinforced by the references to “pedigree name” and the sire and dam of each horse.
We understood that the breeding of Falabella horses was a complex and small part of the miniature horse industry and that some of those involved held differing views regarding what a Falabella horse was and how parentage could be established. Notwithstanding that, we understood that to be officially considered a particular breed a horse would need to be registered with either the relevant studbook of origin (or ‘mother Studbook’) for that breed, or a daughter studbook which complied with all the rules of the mother studbook. The mother studbook for Falabella horses was based in Argentina and at the time the ad appeared there was a lack of clarity regarding the existence of an authorised studbook in the UK. The British Falabella Studbook claimed they held that status but Defra told us that they understood that the status had been withdrawn, although, on further investigation, they could not provide any evidence that this was the case. However, the issue of daughter studbook status was not a matter for the ASA and we therefore focused our assessment on how the average consumer would interpret the ad and whether or not they were likely to be misled.
All horses in the UK had to hold a horse passport issued by a Defra approved passport issuing organisation (PIO). Passports could also be obtained from a different appropriate issuing body if they had their headquarters based in an EU Member State under the relevant legislation. There were a number of different PIOs available, some of which also managed studbooks. The IMHPS was a Defra approved PIO that was designated as managing the studbook for the International Miniature Pony which meant that they only issued passports for that breed, and they were not an authorised daughter studbook for Falabella horses. The IMHPS operated 15 separate sub-registers and so all horses which they passported would be entered onto one of those registers. The registers included three for horses described as Falabella: one for horses that were DNA tested from both parents and where bloodlines were proven to be from Argentina (which we understood was likely to contain only horses that were genuinely purebred); one for pure-bred Falabella horses without DNA testing or blend horses that were over 75% Falabella; and one for part-bred Falabella horses. We understood that the determination of the category which appeared on an individual horse’s passport was based on the information provided by the applicant and that it was the responsibility of the relevant PIO to satisfy themselves regarding that information. We also understood that information about which specific register a horse was on was information which could easily be obtained from the PIO.
The advertiser had provided evidence that the relevant horses held passports issued by the IMHPS and that they were registered with them as Falabellas, although they had not in all cases provided evidence of which register they were on. We understood that some of those horses were unlikely to be purebred. We therefore considered that the ads were misleading by implying all the horses listed were purebred.
In addition, because the majority of horses described as Falabella within the UK would not be pure bred we considered that ads for horses described as Falabella needed to make clear the basis for that claim so that consumers would be able to make an informed decision.
Because the ad misleadingly implied that all of the horses listed were purebred Falabella horses and omitted information to explain the basis for the Falabella claim in relation to each horse, we concluded that it was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 (Qualification).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Sandbeck Farm not to misleadingly imply that horses were purebred Falabella if that was not the case, and to ensure that in the future each listing for horses described as Falabella included the information they held to substantiate the Falabella claim – i.e., which PIO the horse was passported with; the specific register the horse was registered under, including if it was classified as part-bred or not by the issuing authority; and provided an explanation of or link to the category definition. It should also include any information held by the advertiser regarding the breed status of the sire and the dam, including whether they were known to be part-bred.