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ASA bins complaint against organic food advert

Wednesday 26 September 2012

The Advertising Standards Authority has quashed a complaint from an unidentified plaintiff against an advertising campaign for organic produce.


The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld the Organic Trade Board's claim that eating organic produce reduces exposure to pesticides

The ASA upheld the Organic trade Board’s assertion that organic produce contains less pesticides than conventional food. The advert in question features two apples discussing ‘treatments,’ while a caption underneath reads “they may look the same, but one way to reduce your exposure to pesticides is to eat more organic food.”


The poster was backed by the EU and is part of a campaign to promote the benefits of organic food; the organic food sector is expanding across almost all of Europe, with the exception of the UK.


The complainant had challenged the suggestion made in the advert that consuming organic food reduces exposure to pesticides, claiming this “was misleading and could [not] be substantiated, because they understood that organic crops were heavily treated with pesticides” and “was denigrating to non-organic crop production.”


However, the ASA summarily rejected the complaint after the OTB supplied information on pesticide regulation for organic production. ASA acknowledged that the OTB’s information “showed that a limited number of pesticides were allowed in organic farming, and that their use was only permissible in certain circumstances;” pointing in particular to EU regulations which state “The prevention of damage caused by pests, diseases and weeds shall rely primarily on the protection by natural enemies, the choice of species and varieties, crop rotation, cultivation techniques and thermal processes."


The OTB was also backed by the UK Food Standards Agency and Pesticide Action Netowrk. FSA attested "Eating organic food is one way to reduce consumption of pesticide residues and additives."


Organic producers certified by the Soil Association, the UK’s premier organic certification body, are only permitted to use 5 pesticides (and the Soil Association claims the use of these is strictly restricted), compared to the 300 chemicals on offer for non-organic farmers.  


The Organic Trade Board maintained that the intention of its advert was to positively promote organic food and highlight objective points of difference between two methods of production. The organisation said it had received funding for the campaign from Defra, which would not have been provided if the advert had been viewed as denigrating towards non-organic produce.


ASA ruled on Wednesday (26th September) that the complaint was unfounded. It said evidence from a range of sources, including those provided by OTB, supported the assertion that organic foods contain less pesticide residues. The authority also said the ad’s claim that “one way to reduce your exposure to pesticides is to eat more organic food" did not directly reference other methods of food production “and only drew a comparison in so far as to present organic food in a positive light.”


An ASA spokesperson said, “We were satisfied that the OTB had provided adequate evidence to substantiate their claim that eating more organic food was one way to reduce exposure to pesticides.  Because we did not consider that the OTB had actively disparaged non-organic farming, and because the statement had been substantiated, we concluded that the claim was not denigrating to non-organic crop production.”


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