The goals of customers and manufacturers are sometimes at odds when it comes to advertising. Customers use it to obtain information on products, while companies are focused on getting potential clients’ attention. These two goals don’t have to be exclusive, but they certainly can be.
Advertising has to grab your attention quickly, then hold it for more details. Fair enough, but to also serve the interests of the consumer the hooks have to be meaningful, accurate and provide solid information that is actually of some use to the consumer. The following are some examples of hooks that range from not helpful to what could fairly be called deceptive.
Natural. The meaning seems self-evident, but is it? Is this natural as in the way it occurs in nature, natural meaning no additives, natural meaning no artificial additives, natural meaning a natural part of the horse’s diet or is it something else? It can mean pretty much whatever the company wants it to mean. Even the FDA lacks a comprehensive definition for what natural means as a food claim, but they have been gathering comments and suggestions because of consumer pressure on this issue. For more information, see: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm456090.htm.
Unfortunately, even if the FDA does come up with a better definition and restrictions it probably won’t apply to animal foods so just be aware that your idea of what natural means may not match what natural in an ad means.
Non-GMO. The meaning of this one actually is self-evident, but boy is it ever being abused. Specifically, non-GMO is being used as a selling point for things that are always non-GMO anyway, from any and all suppliers. All hays, oats, rice bran, flax seed, wheat products, coconut, fruits except papaya, not to mention vitamins and minerals, are automatically non-GMO because there is no GMO variety. The only ingredients of interest in feeding horses that might be GMO are corn, soybean products and beet pulp.
Gluten-Free. Like non-GMO, this statement plays on people’s fears about something they perceive might be harmful, but it is being applied to products where gluten simply isn’t an issue. Only grains contain gluten. Any company’s grain free product is just as gluten-free as one that uses a gluten-free hook to try to attract customers.
“The only supplement your horse will ever need”. The claim may also be that if you feed XYZ you don’t need to, or should not, feed any other supplements. This has been applied to feeds, vitamin/mineral supplements or multipurpose (e.g. hoof, coat and joint) products. The bottom line here is the claim is impossible. There is simply too much variation in diets, horse weights and in the requirements of various categories such as inactive, pregnant, growing, endurance, etc. to ever say that one supplement can do it all in every circumstance.
Low in Sugar and Starch. This one is a real mine field. Sugar and starch are primarily an issue for horses with insulin resistance, in which case the sum of sugar and starch should be below 10%. For many products, low only means lower than the usual sweet feed levels but not low enough for an IR horse. If you have an IR horse, get the actual number to make sure low is really low enough.
Patented. Having a patent sounds impressive but it is no guarantee the product or feed does what it claims to do. For example, a company could hold a drug patent but never be able to get the drug to market because it failed FDA requirements. Patents are granted primarily on the basis of the idea being novel. It must also be intended to do something useful but, again, does not necessarily have to submit rigid proof that it actually does what it says it will.
The above are only examples. There are many others. To avoid swallowing a lot of hype hook, line and sinker, know exactly what you need to be looking for in terms of ingredients and amounts when you shop for nutritional products. If you are unsure about something, ask a professional you trust.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD