On March 17, 2014, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of South Africa–a non-governmental, self-regulatory body established by the marketing communication industry–declared that a radio advertisement that touted several benefits of genetically engineered crops violated the ASA’s Code of Advertising Practice. Mariam Mayet on behalf of The African Center for Biosafety v. Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd, No. 22576 (S.A. Advertising Stds. Authority 17 Mar. 2014). The advertisement in question, run by Monsanto South Africa, contained the following statements:
GM crops enable us to produce more food sustainably whilst using fewer resources. GM crops and food are strictly regulated and have been extensively researched and tested for safety. GM crops provide a healthier environment by saving on pesticides and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions whilst increasing crop yields substantially.
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB)–an advocacy organization that campaigns against transgenic crops and commercial agriculture–complained to the ASA that the claims in Monsanto’s commercial were unsubstantiated. Although Monsanto responded to the ACB’s complaint by citing scientific studies in support of its claims for the benefits of genetically modified crops, the ASA did not take those studies into consideration. The ASA explained that it “is not a technical expert, and would not be able to interpret scientific data and information to appropriately extrapolate findings.” For this reason, the ASA expects advertisers “to present unequivocal confirmation from an independent and credible expert in the relevant field to support the exact claims made in the advertising.” Acccordingly, the ASA deemed the statements in Monsanto’s commercial to be unsubstantiated because Monsanto did not submit evidence from “an independent and credible expert to confirm that the various studies relied on and referred to on its website are applicable to the respondent’s product, or that they support the advertising claims.”