The Vegan Society, Compassion in World Farming, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and five other vegan organisations submitted nearly 500 complaints accusing the ads of being misleading because they implied that eating meat and dairy was a necessity to maintain a balanced diet.
The “ Eat Balanced” campaign by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development’s Board (AHDB), which aired on television and online in January, said that red meat and dairy are “a source of B12 and protein”.
A voiceover in the television ad said: “We’ve all got a lot on our plates right now, but here’s something you’ll want to make room for. The story of a food so natural, it takes the rain from the sky and plants we humans cannot eat, and turns it into something wonderful.”
It showed cows grazing in green fields, as well as an open field with shelters for pigs. One scene showed a silhouette of children running.
The ad also featured text that read: “B12 helps reduce tiredness and fatigue. Protein contributes to the maintenance of normal bones.”
Other ads aired online as part of the campaign contained text that stated: “Beef, pork, lamb and milk contain vitamin B12, an essential nutrient not naturally present in the vegan diet. Click to discover more.”
The complainants accused the campaign of misleadingly implying that eating meat and dairy was required to get vitamin B12, and suggesting that livestock used for meat in the UK were typically outdoor grazed and had minimal environmental impact “when that was not the case”.
They also took issue with the use of the word “natural” in the ads over certain farming practices, including the removal of calves from their mothers and the docking of pigs’ tails, which they said were not “natural”.
The ADHB, which is a non-departmental public body funded by farmers, argued that the campaign was aimed at addressing “common consumer misconceptions about the sustainability of red meat and dairy produced in Britain when compared to global livestock production”.
Dismissing all the complaints, the ASA said on Tuesday that none of the adverts were misleading and the board could continue the campaign in its present form.
“The ads did not state that consumers could not obtain a balanced and healthy diet unless they ate meat or dairy,” said the authority, adding that it was “factually accurate to state that vitamin B12 was not naturally present in a vegan diet”.
“We referred to the NHS advice on vegetarian and vegan diets, which stated that vitamin B12 was only found naturally in foods from animal sources, and that because sources of vitamin B12 for vegans were limited, supplements or fortified foods might be needed,” said the ruling.
Citing data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that said 87 per cent of farms with cattle in the UK used a mix of housed and grazing systems for their cattle, the authority also dismissed complaints that the advert was misleading in this regard.
It also noted that many pigs in the UK were kept in outdoor systems similar to those shown in the ad, and majority of sheep were housed outdoors.
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