Blog: Dean BestIceland slapped on wrist over "denigrating" horsemeat ad

Dean Best | 21 August 2013

UK retailer Iceland Foods has been rebuked by the country's advertising watchdog for an ad that appeared at the height of the horsemeat contamination scandal - and that cast doubt on quality tastes carried out by food safety officials across the Irish Sea.

The ad, which appeared in February, claimed tests by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that found two Iceland burgers contained 0.1% equine DNA were "not accredited".

In the ad, Iceland claimed two subsequent tests on the same batch of burgers by "two accredited independent laboratories" found "no evidence of contamination".

After contact with the FSAI, Iceland moved to amend the ad and published a statement on its website that acknowledged the results were valid.

However, in a statement today (21 August), the UK's Advertising Standards Authority said Iceland's ad had cast doubt on the FSAI's testing.

"The overall impression created by the ad was that the FSAI had not taken due care to ensure the accuracy or validity of the tests used, and therefore that its findings were questionable," the ASA said. "We told Iceland to ensure their advertising did not discredit or denigrate organisations in future."

The retailer had been forced to make a public apology to the FSAI at the height of the scandal after typically outspoken comments from CEO Malcolm Walker.

In an interview with the BBC's Panorama programme, Walker remarked "well, that's the Irish, isn't it", after presenter Richard Bilton noted the 0.1% test result by the FSAI. The retailer swiftly moved to apologise to the FSAI.

In a statement today on the ASA ruling, Iceland said: "The ASA adjudication relates to an Iceland press advertisement that appeared once in February 2013, and which the company never had any intention of repeating. We made clear our respect for the FSAI and their testing regime in our statement of 18 February 2013 to which we have nothing further to add."

Nonetheless, Iceland did say it was "pleased" at a second ruling by the ASA that backed its assertion in the ad that "No horsemeat has ever been found in an Iceland product."

The ASA ruled that assertion was not misleading despite the 0.1% trace result. The watchdog said the FSAI and the UK's Food Standards Agency had referenced a level of 1% or more horse DNA or meat as the threshold at which positive results would be made public.

The regulator explained the FSA had said 1% was a "pragmatic level at which to distinguish between gross contamination or adulteration and trace levels of horse DNA or meat".

The ASA added: "We noted Iceland had intended to convey that distinction in the ad by referring to horse 'meat' in the main claim and horse 'DNA' in the explanatory text which referenced the 1% 'threshold'. Whilst we acknowledged that the FSA and FSAI did not make such a distinction between horse 'meat' and horse 'DNA', and that the FSAI were concerned that the 1% threshold level should be seen only as an indication of deliberate adulteration rather than a level of tolerance for contamination, we considered consumers would understand from the ad's explanatory text the distinction that Iceland was conveying – that the level of horse DNA found in two of their burgers was so low that it was regarded as 'trace' levels which were likely to have been caused by accidental carry-over."

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