Sainsbury's PR attacks fat cats to make a quick buck

2 April 2010

We recently saw how Rentokil's PR company fabricated scientific evidence to whore their client to the national press.  Here's another example, this time from Sainsbury's. It begins with this 'news' story from Fair Investment, an affiliate-fuelled price comparison site:

Bitterwallet - Sansbury's pet insurance
The supermarket's study found that 9.4 per cent of animals were obese while a further 29 per cent were above the recommended weight. Sad times. But at least Sainsbury's are playing a part in campaigning for better treatment of the family moggie and pooch:

Sainsbury's pet insurance is urging pet owners to be responsible when it comes to their pet's weight.

Data from Sainsbury's shows that such conditions account for approximately one in seven pet insurance claims, which can result from the pet being overweight.

On the other side of the coin, the research also revealed that around 13 per cent of pets which are seen by vets are underweight, which can also seriously compromise an animal's quality of life and shorten their life expectancy.

So Sainsbury's have concluded that around half of all pets suffer weight issues that could require treatment. That news will no doubt scare some pet owners into taking action; if only there was a way they could avoid such expensive veterinary bills. Fortunately, a quick search on the topic reveals a solution from Money News:

Bitterwallet - Sainsbury's Pet Insurance - hooray!

Thank goodness for small mercies, eh?

There's lots going on here. We can't find the original press release on their media site or their corporate site, but at least two websites quote Sainsbury's in describing an 'obesity epidemic'. The problem is there's no historical data to compare the new research to. Without knowing whether the figures have risen over a period of time, you can't announce an epidemic simply with a snapshot of figures. There's no evidence of how many vets were questioned, or what they were asked - fairly important stuff if you're declaring an epidemic. In fact, a quick search might suggest pet obesity has fallen considerably in the past five years.

Then there's the fact that being overweight does not make a pet (or a person) obese; the two conditions have very different definition. But hell, confusing the terminology creates a more sensational headline of 'epidemic' proportions.

Nearly all the websites that carried the story quote Lucy Hunter,  Sainsbury's pet insurance manager:

"The saddest thing about this research is the fact that the pets are not to blame. As is the case with humans, a lack of exercise and a poor diet, or overeating, is causing our pets' weight to balloon."

All absolutely true, so long as you ignore science; genetics have long been established as a contributing factor in obesity, in animals as well as people. Various illnesses increase the likelihood of obesity, as can sterilization - a responsible owner can still own an overweight pet. Or an underweight pet. Whatever.

"Owners that do not look after their pets through poor diets and a lack of exercise increase the chances of their animals suffering serious health problems, which can run into thousands of pounds in veterinary bills."

This press release is actually a work of genius; in one fell swoop, Sainsbury's create an epidemic without providing proof, which drives take-up of their insurance policies by scaring consumers concerned about their pet and their bank account, but simultaneously aims to reduce insurance claims by encouraging responsible pet ownership.

Who wins? The real fat cats.


  • Griff H.
    Wow! That is the saddest article! To think that all that money is spent just because the owners are lazy, irresponsible, or neglectful in many cases is such a shame. I can only imagine what the same amount of money that is spent on these obese animals could do in a poor country where many people are starving and it is not because of their laziness or neglect. Sad!
  • Nicolette U.

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