NAD Recommends Animal Welfare Claims Be Discontinued

Advertising Law

Animal welfare claims on packaging for Hatfield pork products should be discontinued, the National Advertising Division (NAD) recommended to Hatfield Quality Meats in a recent decision.

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) challenged the express claim “Ethically Raised by Family Farmers Committed to a Higher Standard of Care, Governed by Third Party Animal Welfare Audits,” as well as the implied claim that the pork produced by Hatfield comes from pigs raised in a more ethical manner than conventional production.

To back its argument, the AWI commissioned a consumer survey of 400 respondents that resulted in three findings: 48.5 percent of the consumers noted the claim (demonstrating its impact, AWI argued); a high percentage of consumers were misled (taking the claim to mean that the animals’ treatment and living conditions on the farms exceeded industry standards); and because of the claim, consumers were more likely to choose Hatfield products over those of competitors because of the claim.

Hatfield countered that its ethically raised claim is based on its exclusive use of family farmers who are committed to a higher standard of care, a benefit verified by third-party animal welfare audits. A reasonable consumer would expect that “ethically raised” pigs live under conditions that advance sound animal care practices, the advertiser told the NAD.

To determine the message reasonably conveyed by the claim, the NAD first looked to AWI’s survey. Despite the criticisms from Hatfield—that the survey improperly aggregated open-ended responses and that both the control and test survey labels contained the Hatfield brand that failed to prevent any bias associated with the brand—the self-regulatory body found the survey sufficiently reliable.

A net 38.5 percent of respondents took away a message that the treatment of Hatfield’s pigs exceeds industry standards, and both the courts and NAD have held that approximately 20 percent or above has been consistently considered adequate to show consumer confusion.

“Thus, NAD concluded that the [survey] sufficiently demonstrated that one reasonable message conveyed by the label is that the treatment or living conditions of animals from Hatfield’s farms exceeds industry standards for the treatment or living conditions of animals.”

Further, the self-regulatory body independently evaluated the claim and reached the same conclusion.

“The plain language of the claim ‘Ethically Raised by Family Farmers Committed to a Higher Standard of Care, Governed by Third Party Animal Welfare Audits’ states that Hatfield farmers are committed to a higher standard of care,” according to the decision. “The claim itself uses comparative language (i.e., higher) to define its standard of care. While Hatfield argued that its intended meaning was aspirational, a reasonable consumer takeaway from the claim that farmers are committed to a higher standard of care is that the farmers do, in fact, adhere to a higher standard of care.”

After reviewing caretaker standards, third-party auditing and the advertiser’s other efforts—including its relationship with animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin—the NAD found Hatfield’s support insufficient and recommended that it be discontinued.

The advertiser may be able to make a more limited animal welfare claim, the NAD noted, “… so long as the claim is truthful and accurate, narrowly drawn and communicates to consumers more clearly the parameters of the claim.”

To read the NAD’s press release about the decision, click here.

Why it matters: As consumers increasingly factor in the treatment of animals in their purchasing decisions, advertisers are facing private actions as well as regulatory oversight for claims about how animals such as chickens, pigs and cows are raised, fed and treated.