Advertising watchdog bans Iceland Foods’ horsemeat advert

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Test method, Advertising, Iceland

Iceland's advert about horsemeat wrongly discredited FSAI's testing standards, ruled the advertising watchdog
Iceland's advert about horsemeat wrongly discredited FSAI's testing standards, ruled the advertising watchdog
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned frozen food retailer Iceland from using an advert that discredited the inspection standards of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).

Published in the 'i'​ newspaper, the advert headed ‘Food You Can Trust’, questioned FSAI’s testing methods, alleging that they were all unaccredited.  

“The ad must not appear again in its current form,”​ ruled the ASA. “We told Iceland to ensure their advertising did not discredit or denigrate organisations in future.”

The advert claimed: “No horsemeat has ever been found in an Iceland product. All our burgers are made in the UK from British beef.”

It went on to state: “Recent testing by the FSAI found traces of equine DNA at one tenth of 1% in two Iceland Quarter Pounder burgers. The testing method used by the FSAI was not an accredited test and the current accepted threshold level is 1% (10 times the level reported in the Iceland product).”

‘No evidence of contamination’

The advert also claimed two subsequent tests of the same batch of burgers carried out by two accredited independent laboratories found no evidence of contamination. 

But the FSAI said the advert was misleading because the statement that no horsemeat had ever been found in an Iceland product was contradicted by an acknowledgement that two of its burgers had been found to contain 0.1% equine DNA.

It also argued the advert denigrated the FSAI.

Iceland claimed the UK Food Standards Authority (FSA) had agreed with retailers that a threshold level of 1% would be applied to distinguish between gross adulteration and trace levels of DNA. Its advert distinguished between horsemeat and horse DNA.

The ASA ruled that consumers would understand the distinction Iceland made between gross contamination and trace level contamination. Therefore on this point, it did not consider the ad to be misleading.

But it remained concerned about the way the advert described the FSAI’s tests.

The ASA said it understood the FSAI had carried out two sets of tests before publishing its findings. While the initial tests were not carried out using an accredited test methodology, they were conducted by an independent accredited laboratory, and the methodology used was commonly used in North America.

‘Accredited test methodology’

“We understood the FSAI then commissioned a second set of tests that reconfirmed the initial test results. Those tests were carried out by another independent accredited laboratory, which did use an accredited test methodology,”​ said the ASA.

The advert breached the advertising code because it created the overall impression 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”,​ said the watchdog.

An FSAI spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk the authority was pleased that the ASA upheld the complaint that its test results were valid.

An Iceland spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk the ruling the ruling related to an Iceland press advertisement that appeared once in February 2013, and which the company never had any intention of repeating.

“We are pleased that the ASA has ruled that the statement in the advertisement that“No horsemeat has ever been found in an Iceland product" was "not contradictory or misleading”,​ he said.

'Respect for the FSAI'

“We made clear our respect for the FSAI and their testing regime in our statement of 18 February 2013…”.

In Feburary Iceland chief executive Malcolm Walker apologised​ after making disparaging comments about the Irish on a BBC TV documentary about the horsemeat scandal.

When a Panorama​ journalist asked him to explain why Iceland burgers passed British tests for horse DNA but failed Irish ones, he replied: “Well, that’s the Irish isn’t it?”

The authenticity of food supply chains will be one of the subjects under discussion at Food Manufacture’s​ one-day Food Safety Conference at the National Motorcycle Museum on Thursday October 17.

Details of the event – which includes speakers from Unilever, the FSA, consumer watchdog Which?, law firm DWF,  the British Retail Consortium, Leatherhead Food Research and others – are available here.

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