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    ARB rules in favour of Woolworths in rBST-free milk ad dispute

    The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) has ruled in favour of Woolworths after a complainant argued that the advertisement for Woolworths’ "rBST hormone-free milk" was misleading and could potentially cause unnecessary public fear.

    The ARB concluded that the advertisement did not violate advertising standards and that Woolworths' claims were substantiated and accurate.

    Details of the complaint

    Dr Tod Collins contended that Woolworths’ advertisement was misleading in three main aspects:

    1. Misleading use of the term 'hormone': The complainant argued that the term 'hormone' was used without clarification between safe protein hormones like rBST and harmful steroid hormones, potentially misleading consumers.
    2. False implications about milk contamination: Dr. Collins claimed that rBST does not enter milk, thus making Woolworths' claims of rBST-free milk unsubstantiated.
    3. Fearmongering against competitors: The complaint suggested that stating Woolworths’ milk was “rBST hormone-free” implied that other milk products contained harmful hormones, thus causing public panic and unfairly disadvantaging competitors.

    Woolworths' defense

    Woolworths, represented by attorneys from Adams & Adams, defended their advertisement on several grounds:

    1. Accurate claims: Woolworths maintained that their claim of "rBST hormone-free" milk was accurate, as they regularly test their milk to ensure it does not contain rBST.
    2. Consumer demand: They argued that the advertisement responded to consumer preferences for products free of rBST, a hormone that some consumers prefer to avoid despite its safety approval in various countries. The retailer said it does not have a stance on whether rBST is good or bad.
    3. Transparency: Woolworths highlighted their commitment to transparency and consumer information, explaining that their advertising did not make any false claims about the presence of rBST in other brands' milk.

    The ARB found that the term 'hormone' as used in the advertisement was not misleading, as it specifically referred to rBST, a protein hormone, and did not suggest steroid hormones. It acknowledged that Woolworths had provided sufficient evidence to support their claim that their milk is rBST-free, including regular testing by accredited laboratories. The ARB did not find the advertisement to be playing on consumer fears unjustifiably. The claim was seen as a factual statement catering to consumer preference rather than an implication that competitor products were unsafe.

    About Karabo Ledwaba

    Karabo Ledwaba is a Marketing and Media Editor at Bizcommunity and award-winning journalist. Before joining the publication she worked at Sowetan as a content producer and reporter. She was also responsible for the leadership page at SMag, Sowetan's lifestyle magazine. Contact her at karabo@bizcommunity.com
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