Following posting the information of the FDA Warning letter to Science Diet, I heard from a TAPF friend in England.  It seems Science Diet’s advertising is being challenged in the UK too.  Maybe you’ve seen that Science Diet claim Vet’s No. 1 Choice?  Well…

A wise Pet Owner in England saw that claim too and then she remembered a 2010 survey of UK veterinarians.  The survey showed – “of the 200 respondents (veterinarians)”, only 81 stated they “chose Hill’s than any other individual brand”.

Fiona, our friend in the UK, reported this advertising discrepancy to Advertising Standards in London.  (Note:  Advertising Standards Association (ASA) is similar to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US.  However, unlike the UK, the FTC does not investigate false or misleading claims in advertising for pet products.)  The following is what Laura Coffey of Advertising Standards Association in London provided…

“We considered that consumers would understand the claim “Vet’s No. 1 Choice” below the Hill’s logo to mean that a majority of vets had expressed a preference for Hill’s branded products.   We noted that the 2010 survey provided showed that of the 200 respondents, the number who said they would most recommend Hill’s for healthy dogs and cats were 73 and 81 respectively, and we acknowledged that in both cases more vets chose Hill’s than any other individual brand.  However, we also noted that the of the total number of vets surveyed, the number who selected another brand or indicated that they did not know or did not answer was greater than the number who selected Hill’s.   We considered therefore that the results had not demonstrated that Hill’s was “Vet’s No. 1 Choice”.    In addition, we considered that the 200 respondents who participated in the survey was a small sample size.  We therefore also considered that information regarding the sample should have been included in qualifying text in the ad in order to make clear to consumers that the claim was based on only 200 vets surveyed and not on all members of the profession.   Because it was not, and because we considered that  the survey was not adequate to substantiate the preference claim we concluded that it was misleading.    On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (misleading advertising) and 3.11 (Exaggeration).”  

In other words, Advertising Standards in the UK determined that Hill’s Science Diet claim as Vet’s No. 1 Choice was “misleading” and an “exaggeration“.  As well Advertising Standards felt that consumers should have been told only 200 vets responded to a survey and not all veterinarians feel Hill’s Science Diet is their Number 1 Choice.

Thanks to Fiona and Laura Coffey for investigating this pet food claim!  We are waiting to hear if Science Diet has to remove the claim from all pet food packaging and advertising in the UK.

A visit to the Advertising Standards Association website, I found a few other pet food advertising claims that were challenged by UK Pet Owners…

Nestle Purina PetCare UK was challenged regarding a magazine ad for Purina One cat food.  “In just one month you can visibly improve your cat’s health.”  The complainant believed the ad indicated a visible guaranteed improvement in all cats in just one month of eating Purina One was misleading.  The ASA agreed.  “We considered that the ad implied Purina ONE was guaranteed to visibly improve the health of cats of all different adult ages, breeds and health levels in one month by bringing about better digestion, healthier teeth, gums and fresher breath.  We considered that, depending on the circumstances, the product would improve the health of some cats in some areas, for example, a cat on a previously poor diet would have increased energy levels after being fed Purina ONE.  However, the documentation NPP provided was not sufficient proof that feeding adult cats the product for one month would definitely result in a visible improvement in all the cats’ health in all the areas listed in the ad.  We considered the sample size of cats studied was not large enough, nor were enough ages, health levels, previous diets and breeds of cats tested, to prove such a categorical claim.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 50.20 (Vitamins, minerals and other food supplements).”

Another ASA Adjudication questions Pedigree Joint Care Plus dog food.  Four pet owners challenged that a Pedigree ad that begins with a slow moving elderly dog struggling to walk and ends with the same elderly dog (after eating Pedigree Joint Care Plus dog food) bounding easily down steps and outrunning a puppy was misleading.

The ASA agreed.  “We considered that Mars had sent evidence to show that some owners and also some vets had perceived a difference in the mobility of some dogs as a result of feeding them the product for six weeks. We also considered, however, that the exaggerated difference between the elderly dogs slow shuffling movements and considerable difficulty in walking at the start of the ad, compared to its energetic running at the end of the ad, implied the product could have a dramatic and medicinal effect on a dogs joints, yet the evidence submitted did not show that a dog who initially struggled to walk would be able to run with ease, and faster than a puppy, after six weeks of taking the product once a day. We concluded that the ad misleadingly implied the product could provide a medicinal benefit to those dogs suffering from joint damage and discomfort, by treating or curing their condition, and therefore exaggerated the likely benefits of the product for dogs with joint problems and could exploit vulnerable viewers.

The ad breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1 (Misleading advertising), 5.2.1 (Evidence), 5.2.2 (Implications), 8.2.3 (Products without a marketing authorisation) and 8.2.9 (Cure).”

And one more.  This ASA investigation was with Iams pet food’s claim “Voted No. 1 by Vets Available in Supermarkets”.  And the ASA again felt the claim was misleading.  “We also considered that the claim “VOTED No. 1 BY VETS” in ad (b) implied, out of the vets surveyed, Iams was their number one choice, over and above all other brands; they may have voted for other brands but Iams was their number one choice.  However, although the results showed Iams received the highest number of recommendations for dry cat food available in supermarkets, because participants were able to make multiple selections, and were not asked to rank their choices, it was not possible to gauge whether Iams was their number one choice as implied.  Iams may have received the most recommendations but it could have been vets’ overall second or third choice.  We further noted the claim was accompanied by text which stated “AVAILABLE IN SUPERMARKETS*”.  We considered that readers could interpret this to mean that vets’ overall number one choice of dry cat food was Iams and that this was conveniently available in supermarkets.  However, given that two other brands, which were not available in supermarkets, received more recommendations than Iams and we were unable to determine from the results which brand was vets’ number one choice, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

On this point, the ads breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 19.1 (Other comparisons).”

If we only had an Advertising Standards Association in the US to investigate misleading pet food advertising.  If only our Federal Trade Commission cared about misleading pet food claims.  No such luck.