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

July 10, 2013 by Stephen King, The Conversation

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: Apple to face Australian court over iPad

Related Stories

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.

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.

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.

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 ...

Recommended for you

Fish-inspired material changes color using nanocolumns

March 20, 2019

Inspired by the flashing colors of the neon tetra fish, researchers have developed a technique for changing the color of a material by manipulating the orientation of nanostructured columns in the material.

Researchers shed new light on the origins of modern humans

March 20, 2019

Researchers from the University of Huddersfield, with colleagues from the University of Cambridge and the University of Minho in Braga, have been using a genetic approach to tackle one of the most intractable questions of ...

One transistor for all purposes

March 20, 2019

In mobiles, fridges, planes – transistors are everywhere. But they often operate only within a restricted current range. LMU physicists have now developed an organic transistor that functions perfectly under both low and ...

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.