Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Advertising Standards Authority Nixes Biofuels Ad

The Advertising Standards Authority has taken action to ban a Renewable Fuels Assocation biofuels ad after Guardian columnist George Monbiot complained to the agency that the ad was misleading. The ASA said in part:

The ASA acknowledged that fossil fuels such as oil and coal were a finite resource and that developing alternatives was a widely reported part of the current global political and business agenda. We noted the arguments put forward by RFA in support of the claim that biofuels were sustainable, which included that the feedstocks were renewable rather than a finite resource.

We also noted, however, that a review commissioned in the UK by the Secretary of State for Transport, the Gallagher Review of the indirect effects of biofuels production, concluded that, while there was definitely a future for sustainable production of biofuels, there were a number of provisions that needed to be observed. The review concluded there was likely to be sufficient land to meet the needs of food, animal feed and biofuel production to 2020 but that policies needed to be in place to ensure biofuel production targeted idle or marginal land. Without those policies, the review considered biofuel production would result in net greenhouse emissions and loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction in the period to 2020 and that consideration also needed to be given to the period beyond 2020. The review concluded that an EU-wide obligation needed to be set up to encourage production techniques that did not impact on agricultural land and that, outside the EU, stronger policies were needed to slow rates of deforestation, especially in South America, Africa and parts of South-East Asia....

We noted the Oxford English Dictionary definition of "sustainable" RFA had put forward. We considered, however, that the term was used and understood in many different ways. Although the RFA had not referred to it specifically in their response, we understood initiatives were currently attempting to work on the development, implementation and verification of credible global standards for the sustainable production and use of biofuels. We noted a final certification system had, however, not yet been agreed. We also noted RFA believed biofuels should also be considered in terms of economic sustainability. We considered, however, that most readers were likely to consider the concept of sustainability primarily in environmental terms in the context of the ad. We understood the best practice guidance on environmental claims in Defra's "Green Claims Code" stated that, although sustainability was a widely used term, it was not defined by a common methodology when applied to products and that, therefore, claims containing the words "sustainability" or "sustainable" should be avoided. We concluded that, despite the documentation RFA had provided and the arguments they had made, in the light of the advice given by Defra on the use of the claims "sustainability" and "sustainable" and the conclusions of the Gallagher Review, RFA's evidence did not substantiate the claim and that, at the present time, references to biofuels in general as "sustainable" were likely to mislead.

The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 3.2 (Division of informed opinion), 7.1 (Truthfulness), 49.1, 49.2 and 49.3 (Environmental claims).

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