The 'free to roam' case: Why perceptions matter for misleading claims by business

July 10, 2013 by Stephen King

The Federal Court of Australia has brought down its decision in the 'free to roam' case. The Court has clarified that our consumer protection laws are about, well, consumers!

Some background to the case can be found here. In brief, two chicken processors made statements that their chickens, when growing, were 'free to roam in large '. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) noted that the chickens each had less space than an A4 sheet of paper for much of their growing cycle. The ACCC claimed that the advertising was misleading or deceptive, and contravened the Australian Consumer Law. The Federal Court has agreed.

The controversy behind the case is that chickens ''. They do not tend to wander aimlessly, even if given the chance. An expert in provided evidence to the Court that:

"The scientific literature on density indicates that stocking densities [more than those involved in the case] do not affect the of broiler chickens, the time spent walking, the distances travelled by commercial or walking ability …".

At least one commentator made the same point arguing that the ACCC was not protecting animal welfare by its case.

No, they weren't!

As the Court has made clear, animal behaviour and animal welfare is not the relevant test. The Consumer Law is anthropomorphic. It asks what consumers will infer from claims made by business.

"It is necessary for the Court to determine how this statement would reasonably be understood by a significant number of those persons to whom it was directed and, in particular, whether the phrase would have conveyed, as the ACCC contended, the assertion that the chickens had "substantial space available allowing them to roam around freely" in the sheds."

And the Court agreed with the ACCC.

For business the lesson is clear. In advertising, business must ask themselves a simple question: What will consumers infer from my claims? If the inference is false then the advertisement is misleading or deceptive. Whether 'organic', 'full of fruit', 'free range' or some other term, the consumer laws look at the interpretation by consumers.

Explore further: Google wins Australian advert case

Related Stories

Google wins Australian advert case

September 22, 2011

Global Internet giant Google won a court case against Australia's competition regulator Thursday over claims that sponsored links at the top of its search results were misleading to consumers.

Apple to face Australian court over iPad

March 27, 2012

Australia said Tuesday it would take Apple to court for misleading consumers over sales of its new iPad, claiming adverts that it can connect to a 4G network was misleading.

Google loses Australian advert cases

April 3, 2012

Internet giant Google was Tuesday found guilty of false and misleading advertising in Australia after a court upheld an appeal by the country's competition regulator.

The (digital) price is not right

September 28, 2012

A leading expert on intellectual property and consumer rights at The Australian National University has called for a range of legislative and regulatory changes to help stop unjustified price discrimination against Australian ...

Australian court clears Google of hosting deceptive ads

February 6, 2013

Internet titan Google was cleared Wednesday of allegations it hosted deceptive advertisements, with Australia's highest court saying it was not responsible for companies who diverted users from their competitors' sites.

Recommended for you

Just how good (or bad) is the fossil record of dinosaurs?

August 28, 2015

Everyone is excited by discoveries of new dinosaurs – or indeed any new fossil species. But a key question for palaeontologists is 'just how good is the fossil record?' Do we know fifty per cent of the species of dinosaurs ...

Fractals patterns in a drummer's music

August 28, 2015

Fractal patterns are profoundly human – at least in music. This is one of the findings of a team headed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen and Harvard University ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.