PRIMEVAL NEW ZEALAND AGAINST THE ORGANIC EQUINE

Case Number: 2040

Council Meeting: JUNE 2008

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: The Organic Equine

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Accuracy

The Press Council has upheld a complaint by PrimeVal NZ Ltd against The Organic Equine magazine over a report discussing the relative merits of joint supplements for horses.

The Complaint
PrimeVal NZ objects to an article in the March 2008 issue of The Organic Equine, headlined Joint Supplements Demystified, over its assessment of the usefulness of hydrolysed collagen on joints in horses.

Specifically, the article claimed that the evidence for the benefits of collagen on joints was “scanty” and that there were no equine studies. It also claimed that the dose for a horse would have to be as high as 40,000mg a day.

PrimeVal NZ, an importer of a collagen-based joint supplement challenged the statements, claiming that there was plenty of research data showing the benefits of collagen supplements, and specific studies involving horses.

Director Nathalie Sperling said the article was taken from the US website MyHorse.com where it was credited to research veterinarian Dr Eleanor Kellon. She said the reprinted article was based on unfounded statements, it was damaging to the company’s reputation and could have an adverse affect on product sales.

Ms Sperling also said the dose rate specified in the article was unfounded.

PrimeVal NZ asked the magazine for a full apology, with a “correct, complete and accurate explanation of the ingredient hydrolysed collagen and its proven benefits”.

The Magazine’s Response
The Organic Equine’s director and co-editor John Fistonich said the magazine went to great lengths to provide accurate and useful information to readers, while commercial interests tended to offer information that supported their particular products. He said it researched stories from reputable sources specialising in horse health and nutrition.

The article in question was published after consulting a variety of research sites and publications. It said the source of the information on hydrolysed collagen was research veterinarian Dr Eleanor Kellon, from an article published in the December 2007 issue of Perfect Horse.

The magazine said it asked Ms Sperling to provide independent research that substantiated her claims, but the references she gave were unable to be verified. “As none of the evidence offered could be substantiated or even read, we did not feel the need to retract or apologise.” [Some of Ms Sperling’s information was in Dutch]

Mr Fistonich said it had offered to test PrimeVal’s product on its own horses, but the offer had not been taken up.

He said the magazine had reported on a variety of components used in the treatment of joint conditions in horses. It had printed information that was accurate and verifiable but because it did not support PrimeVal’s product, the complaint had arisen.

The magazine did not name PrimeVal nor did it imply any fault in the product.

Discussion
The Press Council considers it important that the distinction between fact, and conjecture, opinions or comment be maintained. In this case, the lines have been blurred and this has led to the complaint.

The Organic Equine’s article was taken from a more extensive article by a research veterinarian that appeared in another magazine and website, but magazine reproduced this article without naming its source. Because of this omission, the information expressed in the article was not seen as the view of one expert, but presented as fact by the magazine.

Prime Val NZ did not agree with the assessment of hydrolysed collagen – an ingredient of one of its joint supplement products – and took issue with the magazine over its claims.

The willingness of the parties to settle this dispute over the article has not been helped by another ongoing dispute over a matter outside the jurisdiction of this Council.

A simple remedy would have been for Prime Val NZ to contact the magazine’s editor, in the first instance, to challenge the view expressed about collagen in the article and offering an alternative view. It might then have been resolved by a letter to the editor.

The Press Council does not view the article as an attack on PrimeVal’s products. Neither the company, nor its products, are mentioned. For those readers who might associate PrimeVal with hydrolysed collagen, the article simply says there is not enough evidence of its effectiveness.

The complainant has provided the magazine and the Press Council with details of further studies on collagen, but the Council is not in a position to conduct a literature review to evaluate what evidence there may or may not be for hydrolysed collagen and its use in horses.

Conclusion
The Press Council upholds the complaint on the grounds that the magazine did not maintain the distinction between comment and fact.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Aroha Beck, Ruth Buddicom, Kate Coughlan, John Gardner, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind and Denis McLean.