Animal groups see red as ASA clears pro-farming ads

farmA marketing campaign which promoted the health benefits of red meat and dairy products – as well as the sustainability of farming methods – has been cleared of breaching the ad regulations despite a huge backlash from consumers and organisations, including Compassion in World Farming UK and the Vegan Society.

The £1.5m “We Eat Balanced” campaign was launched by UK farm levy body the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) at the start of this year.

The TV ad began with a scene of an empty central London street followed by a close-up of metal shutters of a closed store and then green open fields featuring tractors and cows grazing and an open field containing shelters for pigs.

The voiceover that stated: “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.”

Superimposed text later in the ad stated “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 voiceover continued: “Essential nutrients our bodies need to help us stay healthy” while a scene showed a silhouette of children running through fields. A plate containing a piece of meat on a bed of rice, greens, kidney beans, sweetcorn and tomatoes appeared alongside superimposed text which stated “Eat Balanced” and “for more stories visit”.

It was supported by Facebook post, YouTube video and banner ad executions.

But 487 complainants, including Humane League UK, The Vegan Society, Compassion in World Farming UK, Four Paws, PETA, Surge Campaigning CIC, Brinsley Animal Rescue and Viva!, challenged whether the campaign was misleading because it implied that consumption of meat and dairy was required in order to eat a healthy, balanced diet, and to obtain vitamin B12.

They also complained that the campaign “misleadingly implied” that livestock used for meat in the UK were typically outdoor grazed and had a minimal environmental impact.

However, the Advertising Standards Authority was not having any of it. In its ruling, the watchdog cleared the campaign and said: “The ads did not state that consumers could not obtain a balanced and healthy diet unless they ate meat or dairy.

“We did not consider that consumers would interpret the ad to mean that consumption of meat and dairy was required to be healthy, but rather that meat and dairy products provided a choice of food options that could contribute to an overall healthy, varied diet.”

In response, AHDB chief communications and market development officer Christine Watts said: “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 are now focused on preparing for the next stage of our campaign, which will launch later this year, tapping into consumer trends around diet, health and environmental sustainability.”

But the Vegan Society was not so chuffed. Head of campaigns Louise Davies said the organisation was disheartened and frustrated by ASA’s final ruling.

She said: “We still strongly believe by running these ads 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.”

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