· Decision of the Complaints Committee 01295-14 Tindal v Daily Mail
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Mr Peter Tindal complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Exposed: The cruel farms that’ll put you off mozzarella for life”, published online on 12 September 2014 and in print on 13 September 2014.
2. The article reported details of an investigation by animal charity Four Paws into welfare standards at some buffalo farms in Italy, which produce milk used to make mozzarella di bufala Campana cheese. The article reported that the animals in these farms had been mistreated. It also included some general information about the cheese.
3. The complainant, who was an importer of mozzarella, said that the article was one-sided and misleading, inaccurately suggesting that the farms in question produced milk which was used to make mozzarella which would be sold in UK supermarkets, and implying that these retailers were not concerned about animal welfare, when in fact stringent tests are carried out. He said that the publication of the article on a UK news website implied that cheese with poor welfare standards was on sale in Britain, as there was no public interest reason for publication otherwise. He said that readers’ comments on the online article demonstrated that the misleading impression had been created that cheese from these farms was sold in the UK. He considered that the newspaper should have made approaches to British suppliers of the cheese in order to gain a more balanced perspective on the story.
4. The complainant also raised other concerns, relating to claims about the way in which the cheese is packaged to be sold in the UK, and the price at which it is on sale in supermarkets. Furthermore, the case of fraud, in which mozzarella had been found to contain “cheese analogue”, related to cheese made with cow’s milk, rather than buffalo’s.
5. The newspaper did not accept that the article was inaccurate or misleading. It did not contain a direct claim that cheese made from milk from the farms under investigation was being sold in Britain. The article reported an investigation into 50 farms in a certain region, and all mozzarella di bufala Campana has to be sourced from this area. Consumers of the product were entitled to know that there were welfare concerns about the industry and region. The newspaper also did not accept that the article was unbalanced; it pointed out that it had included comments from Antonio Lucisano, Director of the Consortium of Buffalo Mozzarella producers of Campania. Questions had been put to all leading British supermarkets prior to publication, and the article had included their position, stating that they “were confident that their suppliers maintained high welfare standards”.
6. Further, the statement about the way mozzarella was packaged to be sold was qualified by the use of the word “generally”, making clear that the description did not apply in all cases. The assertion was intended to refer to the production of top quality mozzarella in Italy, rather than the way in which the cheese was sold in the UK. It also cited a supermarket selling the product at £2 for 125g, exactly £16 per kilo, the figure quoted in the article.
7. The newspaper accepted that the case of fraud of mozzarella related to cow’s cheese. It accordingly published the following footnote on the online article:
We are happy to clarify that the West Yorkshire fraud referred to in the article involved cow’s milk mozzarella, not buffalo milk cheese.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i)The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii)A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.
iii)The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
9. The Committee did not share the complainant’s view that the mere existence of the story on a UK news website suggested that there was a link between the farms under investigation and mozzarella on sale in the UK. Newspapers are entitled to publish stories which they believe will be of interest to their readers, and are not obliged to provide a public interest defence for the publication of all articles.
10. The complainant had not disputed the findings of Four Paws regarding welfare standards at certain farms in the Campania region, and the newspaper was entitled to rely on the charity’s report. There had been no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information on this point in breach of Clause 1 (i).
11. The Committee noted the article’s assertion that Britain is one of the largest importers of mozzarella from the region in question. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s strongly held position that, as an importer of mozzarella, he was not aware of any welfare issues surrounding the product on sale in the UK, it noted that the article had not made specific claims that the cheese made from milk from the farms under investigation was on sale in the UK. Had such claims been made, the newspaper would have been expected to corroborate them. However, the Committee noted that the complainant was not in a position to establish the provenance of all mozzarella di bufala Campana on sale in Britain. As such, the article’s implication that there may be welfare issues was not significantly misleading. Further, the article had made clear that British supermarkets which had been contacted for comment “were confident their suppliers maintained high welfare standards at all times”. The newspaper was not obliged to ask British mozzarella suppliers for their view on the story, particularly as the article had included extensive quotations from Antonio Lucisano, Director of the Consortium of Buffalo Mozzarella producers of Campania.
12. The reference to mozzarella “generally” being “immersed in its own whey” and being a product that “should be eaten as soon as possible” was not significantly misleading, given that, while mozzarella may not be sold this way in British supermarkets, this description was accurate when considering the premium product available in Italy. The Committee was also satisfied that the publication had taken care to check the price of mozzarella in certain supermarkets, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. The newspaper’s decision to publish a footnote making clear that the West Yorkshire fraud had involved cow’s milk cheese was welcomed. Nonetheless, in the context of an article focusing on the welfare of buffaloes, and other concerns relating to the production of mozzarella, the failure to make this point explicitly clear in the original article did not constitute a significant inaccuracy raising a breach of Clause 1.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 13/10/2014
Date decision issued: 14/01/2015Back to ruling listing