Organic dairy production in spotlight

Organic dairy production in spotlight

The UK's advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority, has upheld a complaint against organic and kosher dairy HaLove. 

The complaint contested claims made on HaLove's website, which expounded the benefits of organic milk.

HaLove had claimed the milk it produces is "healthier than standard milk" and emphasised organically reared cows are not given "hormonal drugs" or "artificial hormones". HaLove also suggested organic certification means the milk produced is free from "nasty pesticides, antibiotics, genetically modified grains or milk producing female hormones fed to the cows". 

The ASA ruled HaLove had failed to provide enough evidence to support a number of its claims, while unfavourable comparisons to conventional dairying frequently referred to outdated practices. HaLove has been ordered to remove such claims from its website. 

The ruling has brought into the spotlight a number of claims associated with the organic movement. At a time when consumer spending is coming under pressure, if organic food makers are unable to communicate benefits that are often associated with organic production it could become harder to convince consumers that it is worth paying a premium for organic products. 

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ASA Adjudication on HaLove

HaLove

Background

Summary of Council decision:

Ten issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.

Ad

Claims appearing on the "About" page of www.halove.co.uk, a website selling Kosher organic milk, stated "About our cows & Our Superior Milk ... Our milk production is not intensified in any way, our rare bread [sic] cows produce a natural amount of milk, which is yummy ... Being Certified Organic by the Organic Farmers and Growers Association, means that there are no nasty pesticides, antibiotics, genetically modified grains or milk producing female hormones fed to the cows ... Our cows are mainly grass and hay feed [sic] and aren't given any GM Soya, Soya products are part of their diet, making our milk Rainforest Friendly too ... We believe that Nature knows best, so we avoid giving our cows antibiotics, hormones unless absolutely necessary and then their milk isn't used. Many non-organic, intensive farms use antibiotics to prevent possible infection, which can damage productivity. There is growing evidence that the routine use of antibiotics is linked to emergence of superbugs in animals, with potential long term unknown consequences for humans. For this reason, we never routinely use antibiotics on our farms. Organic farming doesn't go in for quick fixes and we don't agree with treating animals with antibiotics unless they actually need them - just like humans. Instead, we make sure we have the right breed of cows with a stronger, more-resilient immune system to tackle infection and disease, and where possible, explore the use of alternative medicines, such as homeopathy ... If our cows do get ill, their welfare and wellbeing are our top priority, and - although we aim to stay away from antibiotics - we will use them when it is absolutely necessary ...".

Further claims stated "Our Halovely cows are not fed with high protein concentrate and given hormonal drugs to produce more milk, and generally do not suffer with unnatural and painful oversized udders or struggle to support their artificially increased body weight ...". Claims attributed to Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz from "How Kosher is Your Milk" stated "Researchers have opened our eyes to very real problems in today's dairy industry. Bovine growth hormone is given to cows to give them unusually large and heavy udders, resulting in increased infection rates, which then lead to the administration of antibiotics ...".

On the "FAQs" page, claims stated "In our milk there are no traces of nasty pesticides "Our cows graze land that is not sprayed with artificial chemical fertilisers and herbicides, fungicides or pesticides.

At the heart of organic farming is the idea of working with - not against - natural systems ... organic farmers avoid them.

Instead, we use bugs as natural pest controllers and use natural techniques, such as crop rotation, to fertilise, grow and keep the land nutrient rich.

We also sow nitrogen-fixing crops such as clover, which naturally increases fertility in soil. Along with active habitat management, this encourages micro-organism and earthworms, which keep the soil healthy. As a result, we can use less chemicals, which helps keep watercourses clean ...”.

Under the heading "What about antibiotics?", claims stated "Many non-organic, intensive farms use antibiotics to prevent possible infection, which can damage productivity. There is growing evidence that the routine use of antibiotics is linked to emergence of superbugs in animals, with potential long term unknown consequences for humans. For this reason, we never routinely use antibiotics on our farms. Organic farming doesn't go in for quick fixes and we don't agree with treating animals with antibiotics unless they actually need them - just like humans. Instead, we make sure we have the right breed of cows with a stronger, more-resilient immune system to tackle infection and disease, and where possible, explore the use of alternative medicines, such as homeopathy ... If our cows do get ill, their welfare and wellbeing are our top priority, and - although we aim to stay away from antibiotics - we will use them when it is absolutely necessary ...

You also wont [sic] find any traces of tractors, veterinary medication, rubber ducks, genetically modified soya, expensive jewellery, grains or milk producing female hormones fed to the cows ...

None of [the cows] suffer from Mastitis which could potentially mix visible blood into the milk". Claims which appeared on the Official Omsco website were attributed to Ian and stated "Prevention is better than cure and that means spending a bit more time, care and attention at every step of the farming process. To prevent infections such as mastitis ... we hand-clean the cows' teats and make sure each machine is thoroughly cleaned after each round of milking ...

None of them are given artificial female hormones to help them lactate, none of them are routinely given antibiotics (See Above), none of their calves are aborted or killed at birth ...".

Further text stated "Only the shomer has access to the Kosher Labels and we have a legally binding contract with the dairy that they can not sell any of their regular milk as kosher. to reiterate: ... 4. The milk is healthier than standard milk ...".

Under the question "How can [the milk] last that long?", text stated "Cows are real Animals, who live in muddy fields, with poo and flies, and their udders often get dirty which includes the bacteria, the FSA have an acceptable level of bacteria in milk, but the more bacteria in the milk - even at 'acceptable' levels still makes the milk go bad. In Emma's Organic Dairy, they spend just as much time washing down, sterilising and cleaning the cow udders, as they do in milking them. And because of this strict hygiene routine, Emma's Dairy has one of the lowest bacteria count [sic] in England according to the FSA monitor!

The FSA monitor our bactoscan which is an indication of how clean the milk is regards ingested dirt and muck. The allowed bactoscan in the UK is 100". Claims attributed to Ian O'Reilly stated "We currently average 20 which is a very clean score. The milk bacteria are all intact and present, the test is really concentrating on cow poo rather than good bacteria in milk".

Issue

The complainant challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:

1. "None of [the cows] suffer from mastitis";

2. "The milk is healthier than standard milk";

3. "Emma's Dairy has one of the lowest bacteria count in England according to the FSA monitor!"

The complainant also challenged whether the following claims misleadingly implied that antibiotics, milk producing hormones and the abortion of calves were routinely used and carried out in dairy production, when they understood their use was banned:

4. "Our Halovely cows are not ... given hormonal drugs to produce more milk";

5. "None of [the cows] are given artificial hormones to help them lactate";

6. "We believe Nature knows best, so we avoid giving our cows antibiotics, hormones, unless absolutely necessary and then their milk isn't used";

7. "Being Certified Organic by the Organic Farmers and Growers Association, means that there are no nasty pesticides, antibiotics, genetically modified grains or milk producing female hormones fed to the cows";

8. "In our milk there are no traces of nasty pesticides"; and

9. "None of their calves are aborted or killed at birth".

10. The complainant also challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that dairy cows generally experienced oversized udders and artificially increased body weight, when they understood that was not the case.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

Response

1. - 10. HaLove said the differences between organic and non-organic dairy farming were generally known. They said the links to and quotes from third party websites validated their common sense assertions about the moral, ethical and health benefits of organic milk compared to the appalling treatment of animals in factory farming in some parts of non-organic milk production around the world. They believed the links and quotes were sufficient to support their comparative claims.

Assessment

1. Upheld

The ASA considered the claim that none of the cows used to produce HaLove's organic milk had suffered from mastitis was an absolute one. We expected HaLove to show that none of the cows used to produce their milk had suffered from mastitis. We had not seen any such evidence and we therefore concluded the claim "None of [their cows] suffer from mastitis" had not been substantiated and was misleading.

On this point, the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).

2. Upheld

We considered HaLove needed to hold evidence to support their claim that HaLove milk was healthier than non-organic milk. We had not seen any such evidence and we therefore concluded the claim "The milk is healthier than standard milk" had not been substantiated and was misleading.

On this point, the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).

3. Upheld

We considered HaLove needed to hold evidence which showed that Emma's Dairy had one of the lowest bacteria counts in its milk, as measured and monitored by the Food Standards Agency. Although the website included a testimonial from the owner of Emma's Dairy, we considered that alone was insufficient to substantiate the claim. We had not seen any further evidence to support the claim and we therefore concluded it had not been substantiated and was misleading.

On this point, the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).

4. & 5. Upheld

The complainant believed the website made a number of implied comparative claims between organically and non-organically farmed dairy cows. Text on the "About" page appeared under the heading "Our cows & Our Superior Milk" and also explicitly referred non-organic farms and the ramifications of that type of farming on the cows. We therefore considered the context of that page was a comparison between organic and non-organic dairy farming, rather than claims about the way in which HaLove produced its milk. The "FAQs" page also referred to the same consequences of non-organic farming and again, we considered the claims appearing on that page were also likely to be interpreted as comparative ones.

In that context, we considered the claims "Our ... cows are not ... given hormonal dugs to produce more milk" and "None of [HaLove's cows] are given artificial hormones to help them lactate" implied that it was common practice to use milk producing hormones in dairy farming. We understood from DairyCo, a division of the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board, and the complainant that practice was banned in the EU, regardless of how the cows were farmed. As non-organically farmed dairy cows would not be routinely given milk producing hormones as HaLove had implied, we concluded the claims were misleading.

On this point, the claims breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).

6. Upheld

We considered the claims "... we avoid giving our cows antibiotics ... unless absolutely necessary and then their milk isn't used" implied that was a farming method unique to HaLove as an organic milk producer. However, we understood from DairyCo that the aim of reducing dependence on the use of antibiotics was common to both organically and non-organically farmed dairy cows on UK farms. Furthermore, we had not seen evidence from HaLove which supported their implied claim that this practice was unique to them and we therefore concluded the claim was misleading.

On this point, the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).

7. & 8. Upheld in part

We considered the claims "Being Certified Organic ... means that there are no nasty pesticides ... genetically modified [GM] grains ... fed to the cows" and "in our milk there are no traces of nasty pesticides" implied that pesticides and GM grains were used in non-organically farmed dairy cows. We understood from DairyCo that the use of GM feed was permitted in the UK for non-organically farmed animals, although the importation of GM products was tightly regulated. They also confirmed the use of GM feeds for organically farmed dairy cows was prohibited. We therefore considered that HaLove's implied claim that non-organically farmed dairy cows could be given GM feed was correct. On that point, we concluded the claim "Being Certified Organic ... means that there are no ... genetically modified grains ... fed to the cows" was not misleading.

We understood that non-organic farmers were permitted to use pesticides and we therefore considered that HaLove's implied claim that pesticides were used in non-organic dairy farms was correct. On that point, we concluded the implied claim "Being Certified Organic ... means that there are no nasty pesticides ... fed to the cows" was not misleading.

We considered the claim "... in our milk there are no traces of nasty pesticides ..." implied that traces of pesticides could be found in non-organic milk and we had not seen any evidence to support that claim. Because of that, we concluded the claim had not been substantiated and therefore, was misleading.

On this point, we investigated the implied claims about GM grains and pesticides being used in non-organic farming under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.38 (Other comparisons), but did not find them in breach.

On this point, the implied claim that pesticides were present in non-organic milk breached CAP Code CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).

9. Upheld

We considered the claim implied that it was usual for non-organic dairy farmers to abort or kill calves at birth and we had not seen any evidence to support that claim. We therefore concluded it had not been substantiated and was misleading.

On this point, the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).

10. Upheld

We considered the claim "Our Halovely cows ... generally do not suffer with unnatural and painful oversized udders or struggle to support their artificially increased body weight" implied that non-organically farmed dairy cows suffered from those conditions as a result of the way in which they were farmed. Although the website went on to state those conditions were a result of cows being given growth hormones, we had not seen any documentary evidence to support that assertion by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz. In the absence of supporting evidence, we concluded the claim had not been substantiated and was misleading.

On this point, the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).

Action

The claims must no longer appear. We told HaLove to hold adequate substantiation for their claims and not to imply that milk producing hormones were routinely used in non-organic dairy farming when that was not the case. We told them not to imply that pesticides could be found in non-organic milk unless they held evidence to substantiate the claim. We also told them not to imply that using antibiotics only when necessary was unique to organic dairy farming when that was not the case. We further told them not to imply that non-organically farmed cows were routinely aborted or killed at birth and not to make claims that non-organically farmed cows suffer from oversized udders.

 

Original source: ASA