Oat milk company adverts banned for misleading environmental claims

Undated handout screengrab issued by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of one of the adverts for oat drink company Oatly which have been banned for making misleading environmental claims. Issue date: Wednesday January 26, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story CONSUMER Oatly. Photo credit should read: ASA/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
One of the adverts which has now been banned (Picture: ASA / PA)

Adverts from oat drink company Oatly have been banned after it was found some of the claims made were misleading.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated the commercials after receiving 109 complaints, including from campaign group A Greener World.

Two TV ads, a paid-for Facebook post, a paid-for Twitter post and two newspaper adverts made various claims about the environmental benefits of drinking Oatly.

These included:

  • ‘Oatly generates 73% less CO2e [carbon dioxide equivalent] vs milk, calculated from grower to grocer’
  • ‘The dairy and meat industries emit more CO2e than all the world’s planes, trains, cars, boats etc combined’
  • ‘Today, more than 25% of the world’s greenhouse gases are generated by the food industry, and meat and dairy account for more than half of that’
  • ‘Climate experts say cutting dairy and meat products from our diets is the single biggest lifestyle change we can make to reduce our environmental impact’
  • ‘If everyone in the world adopted a vegan diet, it would reduce food’s annual greenhouse emissions by 6.6 billion metric tons (a 49% reduction)’
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 20: Oatly oat milk is offered for sale at a grocery store on May 20, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Oatly began trading on the Nasdaq today after listing its initial public offering at $17-per-share, giving the company an implied valuation of $10 billion. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Commercials on TV and social media made various claims about the environmental benefits of drinking Oatly (Picture: Getty Images)

Oatly UK said independent product lifecycle assessment experts CarbonCloud calculated the climate footprint ‘from cradle to store’ of its Oatly Barista Edition oat drink.

They found the climate footprint to be 0.44 kg CO2e/kg, which includes the emissions from agricultural production of oats and rapeseed, processing of ingredients, transport of ingredients, energy consumption in the factory, packaging and distribution.

In comparison it was found the climate footprint of whole cow’s milk to be 1.6 kg CO2e/kg, and included the emissions from agriculture, transport of ingredients, energy consumption in the factory, packaging and distribution.

But the ASA said consumers would think the 73% figure would refer to all Oatly products compared with any type of cows’ milk, and would expect to see the evidence.

Therefore it concluded the evidence supporting the claim was ‘not sufficient’ and said the two adverts including the claim were misleading.

The ASA further found the claim that dairy and meat industries emit more CO2e ‘than all the world’s planes, trains, cars, boats etc combined’ did not take into account equivalent parts of both industries’ lifecycles. It said Oatly was overstating emissions from the meat and dairy industries.

A carton of Oatly brand oat milk is arranged for a photograph in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Oatly AB is considering an initial public offering that could value the Swedish maker of vegan food and drink products at as much as $5 billion, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the ads must not appear again (Picture: Bloomberg via Getty Images)

It also said the claim that meat and dairy accounts for more than half of the 25% of greenhouse gases generated by the food industry was ‘too narrow a definition’ and could mislead customers.

Finally, the ASA said people could think the claim ‘climate experts say cutting dairy and meat products from our diets is the single biggest lifestyle change we can make to reduce our environmental impact’ was as a ‘definitive, objective claim that was based on scientific consensus’ – when it was actually the opinion of just one climate expert.

The ASA ruled that the ads must not appear again, and wrote in a statement: ‘We told Oatly UK to ensure that the basis of any environmental claim was made clear, including what parts of the lifecycle had been included and which excluded.

‘We also told them to ensure they held adequate evidence to substantiate environmental claims made in their ads as they would be understood by consumers.’

Oatly spokesperson Tim Knight said: ‘It’s clear that we could have been more specific in the way we described some of the scientific data.

‘We’re a science-based company and take pride in being precise, but we could have been clearer.

‘We talk about these things a lot, because we want to make it easy for people to make an informed switch from dairy to oat drink.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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