Egg Advertising - it Cracks You Up
Egg Advertising - it Cracks You Up
There are sales people out there who can’t afford to lie – but they want your money so can’t afford to tell the truth either. By Tony Wardle
Remember the old advertising slogan, Go to Work on an Egg? Brilliant, absolutely brilliant! It was the creation of what was then the Government-backed Egg Marketing Board and made no health claims, no nutritional claims – nothing! Introduced in 1956, it spawned a £12 million, six-year-long TV advertising campaign featuring those old stalwarts, Tony Hancock, Patricia Hayes and Pat Coombs, and ran from 1965 to 1971. It strongly implied that eggs were good for you, were energy powerhouses, should be eaten every day and were beyond criticism – without saying any of those things. Like I said, brilliant!
Just how brilliant can be seen by the tussle the US egg industry has had with its own government in its desperation to say something positive about eggs. The only reason we know this is because our old friend Dr Michael Greger, of the non-profit, Nutrition Facts, obtained copies of their written exchanges under the US Freedom of Information Act. The facts are fascinating and have numerous parallels with the UK.
The egg industry’s first claim was that ‘eggs are healthy and nutritious’ but the US Food & Drug Administration (USFDA) wasn’t very happy about that:
“Healthy and nutritious have certain connotations and because eggs have the amount of cholesterol they do, plus the fact that they’re not low in fat, these words are problematic. However, you can say something that is just as strong, if not stronger, and that is ‘naturally nutrient dense’”.
Legally, you can’t describe something as nutritious unless it is actually nutritious. Of course, you could just as truthfully describe Coca Cola as nutrient dense as there is no legal definition to define it.
The second claim was that eggs are a ‘nutritional powerhouse that aid in weight management.’ The USFDA weren’t happy with that either: “We were warned some years ago not to portray eggs as a diet food because of the fat and cholesterol content so we need to tread carefully here. They contain twice the calories of anything that can be called ‘low calorie’. Nutritional powerhouse can’t be used either.”
The ad was headlined ‘Egg-ceptional nutrition’ and that was also turned down: “You can’t legally call eggs nutritious… Let’s move on to plan B.”
The industry came up with a new ad with the headline, ‘Find true satisfaction’ and went on to claim, ‘New research shows that eggs can promote satiety’ and ‘Naturally nutrient dense. High-quality protein. Can reduce hunger …..make it with eggs.’
Let’s forget for a minute that if you eat enough of it, any food can stop you feeling hungry but this pleased the USFDA: “How clever you are – yes I can approve this.” But then they added a rider, reminding the egg industry that you can’t call them a rich source of protein, you can’t say they pack a nutritional wallop, you can’t say they contribute nutritionally and you can’t say they’re healthful or healthy or contribute healthful components. You can’t even say that eggs are an important part of a healthy balanced diet. You can say they provide a satisfying start to the day. You also can’t say they are naturally healthy but you can say they are a recognisable ingredient. “Just remember that you need to steer clear of words like healthy or nutritious as eggs fall short of the FDA’s requirement on both cholesterol and saturated fat requirements.”
An ad proposed by Californian egg farmers was simple in its claim. ‘Local eggs are safe, fresh, affordable and healthful’. Again the censor intervened saying you can’t say healthful or safe because over 100,000 US citizens are poisoned with salmonella by eggs every year.
The American Egg Board’s response was that salmonella is a naturally occurring bacteria that can cause illness.
Not the best sales pitch in the world! It was reminded that it may be counterproductive to imply that there is no way of avoiding salmonella other than to avoid eggs altogether. In fact, the Egg Board’s own research said that eggs cooked sunnyside up should be considered unsafe – in fact anything soft cooked should be considered unsafe! Despite this, they wrote to the USFDA essentially asking for dispensation from their own findings, saying: “We’d really like not to have to dictate that egg yolks are firm.”
It’s interesting that the USFDA’s concerns about egg safety apply not just to salmonella but also avian flu because of fear that eggs may be a vector for it. It’s also interesting that some of the information provided under the FoI Act had been ‘redacted’ – felt tip pens had been used to obscure an entire page in one instance, the only legible words being, ‘If you require any further information…’. In other cases, entirely blank pages were provided.
Faced with this almost entirely negative advice on egg consumption, and to counter public health warnings linking eggs with heart disease, the egg industry created a National Commission on Egg Nutrition and issued a forceful statement: “There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that eating eggs in any way increases the risk of heart attack.” What they didn’t say was that even their studies, funded by the American Egg Board, showed there were direct benefits to arteries from not eating eggs. The U.S. Court of Appeals, unsurprisingly, found the claim patently false and misleading.
The American Egg Board was also active on another front, issuing advice to its egg-producing members to exercise caution when providing footage to the media: “Do not show multiple birds in cages – they look too crowded and open us up to activist criticism. Shots of two birds eating look ok. Don’t show farms that look huge and very commercialised as that would be an open door to activist criticism and critics of large animal agriculture operations. Avoid shots that show a high-tech commercial farm and do not show rooms full of eggs – it is too overwhelming for consumers.”
In other words, don’t show the truth! Now, when did you ever see an ad in the UK, either in print or on TV, that showed hens in intensive farms? Even worse, whenever a programme uses a bit of ‘wallpaper’ footage of hens they are always cosy, hobby, freerange birds and never battery or barn hens or even proper, commercial free range, which are equally as squalid.
Michael Greger MD is an extraordinary man who, it seems, spends most of his life reviewing all the latest science on health and nutrition, as well as doing the kind of detective work I have relied on here. He produces daily videos of what he finds and if this is your area of interest I strongly suggest you sign up (free) to receive them. He will be slowing down for a while as he is working on his next book but he has an enormous archive of past daily videos to keep you informed (NutritionFacts.org).
He is no friend of the egg industry, obviously, and one of his recent findings will make him even less so – that even just a single egg a week may increase the risk of diabetes, the leading cause of lower limb amputation, kidney failure and new cases of blindness. They also won’t be very pleased by a new report in the journal Breast Cancer. A meta-analysis of 13 studies shows that egg consumption is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Eggsistential, man,eggsistential!