Peta and Vegans Lose in Complaint over Ads that Said Eating Meat Was Healthy

black and white cows in green grassy meadow under blue sky near amersfoort in holland - stock photo black and white cows in green grassy summer meadow under blue sky near amersfoort in the netherlands
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In a display of common sense not always observed with government agencies, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled against the British Vegan Society and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) over their challenge of multimedia advertisements which said that eating meat was healthy.

The advertising body was forced to review four pieces of media put out by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB): a television commercial, a newspaper website ad, a YouTube video, and a Facebook post from the January 2021 “Eat Balanced” campaign.

One part of the television ad had shown cows grazing in fields, with the narrator saying, according to the ASA report published on Wednesday: “Red meat and dairy are a source of B12 and protein … B12 helps reduce tiredness and fatigue. Protein contributes to the maintenance of normal bones.”

The banner ad on the website, headed, “TO B12 OR NOT TO B12?”, stated: “Beef, pork, lamb and milk contain vitamin B12, an essential nutrient not naturally present in the vegan diet. Click to discover more.”

The other ads likewise noted that B12 was an essential vitamin not naturally present in a vegan diet and expounded the virtues of eating animal products, including using the terms “natural” and “in harmony with the environment”.

However, 487 complaints were raised over the ads, including from Peta, the Vegan Society, and the Humane League UK, complaining that the ads were “misleading” because “they implied that consumption of meat and dairy was required in order to eat a healthy, balanced diet” and that it was required to obtain vitamin B12, amongst other complaints about the campaign, including the objection to the word “natural”.

The ASA threw out all of the objections, notably saying that “the ads did not state that consumers could not obtain a balanced and healthy diet unless they ate meat or dairy” and that it was “factually accurate to state that vitamin B12 was not naturally present in a vegan diet”.

The advertising authority’s ruling provided a refreshing alternative to others made by the body that garnered media attention in recent years, including in 2019 when it banned a Volkswagen ad on TV featuring a mother caring for her baby while men were being adventurous on the grounds that it had “presented gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm”, or last year when it banned an underground ad for the freelancers’ recruitment site PeoplePerHour because it had the word “girl” in it.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s chief communications officer Christine Watts said according to Farming UK that the organisation was “delighted” with the ASA’s ruling, continuing: “For British farming this is an important day as we can continue to communicate the benefits around consuming red meat and dairy as part of a balanced diet.

“We work hard to ensure our campaigns are robust and evidence-based.”

While the Vegan Society’s head of campaigns, Louise Davies, complained her organisation was frustrated by the ruling, maintaining the rejected allegations that “the AHDB set out to purposely mislead the public at a time when a record-breaking number of people were trying veganism through the Veganuary campaign”

“Despite the outcome we hope the huge number of complaints submitted to the ASA will encourage the ADHB and similar bodies to think twice before resorting to such scare tactics again in future,” Ms Davies added.

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