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ADVERTISING WATCHDOG ACCUSED OF ANTI-ANIMAL BIAS
Posted 1 August 1998
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint by the Meat and Livestock Commission, which claimed that an Animal Aid street poster promoting the vegetarian message was 'simplistic and misleading and therefore caused unnecessary fear and distress'.
The decision, in Animal Aid's view, is more evidence of the ASA's anti-animal welfare bias. In recent months the Authority has ruled against ads by the Vegetarian Society (twice), the anti-vivisection group, Uncaged; the League Against Cruel Sports; and Respect for Animals. By contrast, it has rejected complaints by animal welfare interests and ruled in favour of the pro-hunt Countryside Alliance, the National Farmers' Union and Anchor's 'free range butter' ad. The Animal Aid poster bore the slogan Meat Kills - Just Say No! It then elaborated with the message: '850 million animals slaughtered in the UK every year'. In smaller type it said 'Research show that vegetarians have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure', haemorrhoids, cancer, obesity, gallstones, bowel disorders, food poisoning and appendicitis.'
The ad was the focal point of this year's Veggie Month campaign - staged every year during March since 1990. One hundred posters, many sponsored by local campaigners, were booked for shopping centre sites around the country. Some were vandalised or removed following complaints by local meat traders.
In its defence to the ASA, Animal Aid had stated:
"The complainant has conveniently ignored the main message of the poster, which is that Meat kills 850 million animals every year in the UK. The 850 million figure derives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as well as from trade sources...
"The sub-text about human health is deliberately understated, stressing the advantages of a vegetarian diet to human health...Our text simply stated the consensus scientific view, which is that vegetarians are afflicted to a lesser extent than meat eaters by the diseases and ailments we listed."
In expressing Animal Aid's 'profound dismay' at the ruling, Animal Aid director, Andrew Tyler told the authority:
"The ASA, in its recent adjudications against other campaigning groups, is fast developing a reputation for seeking to act as an instrument of censorship and for defending powerful vested interests.
"Our poster advert was fair, decent, rational and contained a message that we are perfectly entitled to put before the public. We do not intend to be gagged by the ASA or by any other like-minded body.'
The campaign group is calling upon the ASA to provide full background details on its governing council.
Added Andrew Tyler
"Since this unelected body is sitting in judgement on group's such as ourselves we want to know who they are. What are the outside interests of the governing council?"
Notes to Editors
- More information: Andrew Tyler, Becky Smith on 01732 364 546. Mark Gold on 01404 831 763. After hours 0421 326329.
- An article in the August edition of Animal Aid's campaign journal, Outrage, calls upon its supporters to 'strike a blow for freedom of expression.' It adds: 'Responding to the MLC complaint was extremely time-consuming - the ASA demanded scientific papers and other documentation to support our claims. Let us place a similar burden on companies and organisations that promote products and practises that are abusive of animals (i.e. those involved in hunting, animal-using circuses, vivisecting drug manufacturers and meat and dairy product makers. If you see a print advert that you believe is inaccurate, offensive or indecent, then make a complaint.'
- In June alone, the Advertising Standards Authority - which claims to 'enforce the highest standards in all non-broadcast advertisements in the UK' - rejected complaints against a Countryside Alliance advert which had claimed that foxes were a 'recognised pest' and that hunting was the most efficient and humane way of culling them. (Mostly 'old and diseased foxes are dispatched.') Complaints against the Anchor 'free range butter' ad were also rejected, as was an objection to a National Farmers Union advert which said that farmers are responsible for saving Britain's hedgerows - and implying that it is they, not the British taxpayer, who are 'being asked to bear the rising cost of public health measures to combat BSE.'