NAD Recommends Sanderson Farms Discontinue Claims About ‘Tricks,’ ‘Gimmicks’; Finds Company can Support Certain Claims Referencing Federal Law

New York, NY – Aug. 11, 2017 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that Sanderson Farms discontinue from its advertising claims that characterize “raised without antibiotics” labels on competing products as a marketing gimmick or trick.

However, NAD determined that the advertiser provided a reasonable basis for its express, literally truthful claims that “[n]one of the chicken you buy in the grocery store has antibiotics in it.  By federal law, all chicken must be clear of antibiotics before they leave the farm” and “[t]he truth is—none of the chicken you buy in the grocery store has antibiotics in it.  By federal law, all chicken must be clear of antibiotics before they leave the farm.”

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. NAD monitors advertising that is national in scope for truth and accuracy. In this case, NAD reviewed a series of Sanderson Farms commercials that the advertiser said were made to better educate consumers about antibiotics in chicken products. Claims at issue included:

  • “[Chicken producers] that say ‘raised without antibiotics’—that’s just a trick to get you to pay more money.  It’s a marketing gimmick … The truth is—none of the chicken you buy in the grocery store has antibiotics in it.  By federal law, all chicken must be clear of antibiotics before they leave the farm.”
  • “[R]raised without antibiotics” on the labels of competing products is just “… a phrase [the marketing guru] invented to make chicken sound safer … and it doesn’t mean much.”

According to the advertiser, an estimated 72 percent of consumers incorrectly believe that chicken sold in supermarkets contain antibiotics. The company maintained that its claims

communicate only that competing producers of chicken use language like “raised without antibiotics” on their labels to deceptively suggest that chicken treated with antibiotics contain antibiotics at the point of sale, and to justify charging a higher price for unexceptional “no antibiotics” chicken.

NAD noted in its decision that it is not NAD’s place to determine whether there is conclusive evidence concerning the connection between antibiotic use in farm animals raised for human consumption and the rise of drug resistant bacteria or the loss of effectiveness of antibiotics in treating humans. Rather, NAD’s mission is to ensure that advertising claims convey complete, truthful and accurate information to consumers and do not overstate or over simplify the evidence offered as support.

Here, NAD questioned whether these advertiser’s commercials reasonably convey the message that all poultry labels which state, “raised without antibiotics” are meaningless or whether they convey the message that there are no attendant health risks associated with consuming farmed animals that have been raised with antibiotics, regardless of whether these animals are “free of antibiotics” before they leave the farm, and if so, whether such messages are substantiated.

NAD acknowledged in its decision that the advertiser’s evidence demonstrated that a majority of consumers mistakenly believe that chicken raised with antibiotics still contain antibiotics at the point of sale and agreed that Sanderson Farms should be free to truthfully correct this misimpression in its advertisements.

At the same time, NAD noted, the evidence in the record also made clear that concerns regarding the use of antibiotics in the raising of farm animals for human consumption extend beyond the mere misinformation that such antibiotics are present in the chicken products at the point of purchase.

Following its review, NAD concluded that the advertiser provided a reasonable basis for its express, literally truthful claims that “[n]one of the chicken you buy in the grocery store has antibiotics in it.  By federal law, all chicken must be clear of antibiotics before they leave the farm” and  “[t]he truth is—none of the chicken you buy in the grocery store has antibiotics in it.  By federal law, all chicken must be clear of antibiotics before they leave the farm.”

However, NAD also determined that given the lack of any consensus in the scientific community over the safety of consuming meat from animals raised using antibiotics the advertiser should discontinue from its advertising language that characterizes the “raised without antibiotics” labels on competitive chicken producers’ products as a “marketing gimmick,” “just a trick to get you to pay more money,” a claim that is “full of hot air and doesn’t say much,” “a phrase [that marketers] invented to make chicken sound safer … and it doesn’t mean much” and similar language.

Sanderson Farms, in its advertiser’s statement, said that while it “respectfully disagrees with portions of NAD’s findings and determinations,” it will comply with NAD’s recommendations in future advertising.

“The crux of the advertising campaign was aimed at educating consumers and correcting widely held misunderstanding among consumers that chicken sold in stores contain antibiotics.  Sanderson Farms believes the ads do just that and is hopeful that this recognition by NAD will further those educational efforts,” the company said.

Note: A recommendation by NAD to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.