Blog written by Claire Hamlett, a freelance journalist and contributor
The contrast could not be starker between the reality of life for most animals on farms and the marketing used by the animal agriculture industry to promote its products. Imagery of animals living in low densities in sunlit fields is rife, appearing in everything from children’s story books to marketing campaigns like ‘We Eat Balanced’ to packaging of animal products in supermarkets, while some brand names are designed to persuade consumers of their animal welfare credentials. Fairly low awareness among the public about welfare standards between different sectors within animal farming, not helped by the government having recently dropped a pledge to introduce mandatory ‘method of production’ labelling on animal products, means that misleading marketing will often be taken at face value by consumers as an indication of the kind of lives animals have lived.
Here we look at some of the most egregious examples of misleading marketing from the animal farming industry that has been exposed as a blatant lie.
This ‘free-range’ egg brand, owned by Noble Foods, uses lots of idyllic imagery of chickens in its marketing and is stocked in all major UK supermarkets. In 2021, PETA released an investigation revealing that three of the RSPCA Assured farms supplying the Happy Egg Company were keeping thousands of chickens crammed into barns, with a number of the hens found to be bleeding, dead, or decomposing. Some hens had lost feathers due to pecking from other stressed out birds. The company claimed that it carried out inspections after the footage was released and found that its welfare standards were being met.
PETA submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the ‘happy egg’ marketing is misleading consumers, but the complaint was dismissed. The ASA said that the evidence “demonstrated that there were comprehensive measures in place to ensure that all of the Happy Egg Co’s supplier farms provided hens with access to outdoor spaces and greenery, and satisfied the RSPCA Assured farm standards for free-range hens."
The UK’s biggest farm certification scheme launched an animated ad campaign last year that gives a cutesy cartoon vision of life for animals who are farmed. But with multiple investigations into Red Tractor certified farms having revealed squalid conditions and cruel practices, the ad campaign is far from honest.
Our recent investigation into Bickmarsh Hall, a Red Tractor pig ‘mega farm’, exposed rampant abuse of the animals, many of whom were sick and injured and left to suffer without veterinary care for hours on end. The infamous Madox dairy farm, where exhausted and lame cows were abused and which featured on BBC’s Panorama after an investigation by Animal Equality, was also Red Tractor assured. Though Red Tractor suspended the farm in the wake of the national outcry following the Panorama episode, it later quietly reinstated it. An investigation by Surge revealing horrendous cruelty and neglect of pigs at Willerby Wold Piggeries led to the farm being dropped as a supplier by supermarkets as well as Red Tractor.
The creepily smiling red cow wearing earrings made of her own cheese is a familiar sight to many, particularly children who are often given triangles of Laughing Cow cheese as a snack. But at a calf farm owned by a dairy supplier for Laughing Cow in the US, the lives of calves are anything but happy. An investigation by Animal Equality into Summit Calf Ranch in Nebraska came out in 2019 which showed many tiny calves left to freeze in subzero temperatures overnight, leading to their hooves freezing and splitting open. Calves were also hit by workers and suffered from diarrhoea and pneumonia. The farm is where Tuls Dairy, which supplies milk for the production of Babybel and Laughing Cow, rears calves to become dairy cows by keeping them in individual hutches where they can have no physical contact with each other.
A Surge investigation into the UK’s biggest goat milk producer, St Helen’s, juxtaposed an advert by the farm in which the goats were described as happy with distressing undercover footage showing the goats living in misery. They were roughly handled, pulled by their necks and ears, and injured by careless hoof trimming, which is only necessary because they spend their whole lives indoors – though the St Helen’s logo is a happy-looking goat munching on grass, giving the impression that the goats are living idyllic lives out in green fields.
Bakkafrost is a major salmon producer based in the Faroe Islands (of whale hunt fame) which bought the Scottish Salmon Company (SSC) in 2019. Bakkafrost’s marketing material shows natural landscapes and free-living Atlantic salmon leaping out of the sea, but the reality for farmed salmon is very different. In 2021 – two years after SSC was acquired by Bakkafrost – Animal Equality released footage from an SSC facility showing fish having their gills ripped off and broken stunning devices, indicating they were not being stunned properly before being killed. Another recent investigation by prominent fish farm critic Don Staniford showed salmon at a Scottish Bakkafrost farm with chunks of flesh missing, likely due to their being improperly protected from predators such as seals, a clear failure to protect the animals’ welfare.
Far from informing customers about the lives of animals, marketing by the animal farming industry serves to keep them in the dark about what really goes on out of the public view, while consumers who wish to keep eating animal products are only too ready to be reassured by the charming vision projected by the industry.
For the animals.