A poster campaign for vegan group Viva! which implied that drinking cow’s milk could cause cancer in humans has been ripped down by the ad watchdog, after the organisation failed to provide evidence to back up its claims.
The ad featured an image of a cow’s udder and included the claims “Most cows are pregnant when milking. That’s why milk contains 35 hormones, including oestrogen … some of these are linked to cancer. Milk is for babies, so let Viva! wean you off the teat!”
However, two complainants contacted the Advertising Standards Authority to challenge whether the implied claim was misleading and could be substantiated.
In response, Viva! said the claim referred to hormones that were naturally occurring in cow’s milk, which increased during pregnancy and were essential for calf development. The group insisted the claim did not refer to hormone treatments or artificial hormones.
Viva! highlighted that the ad stated the hormones were “linked to” cancer, rather than that they “caused” cancer.
It then referred to a range of papers, which it believed showed the presence of more than 35 hormones in cow’s milk, including oestrogen hormones and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).
But the ASA was having none of it, and found that the poster breached rules regarding misleading advertising and substantiation, and banned it from appearing again.
It ruled: “While the claim stated that some hormones in cow’s milk were ‘linked’ to cancer rather than definitively stating that they caused cancer, we considered that consumers would nonetheless interpret it to mean that because of the hormones that were present in cow’s milk, drinking cow’s milk could increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.
“We considered that the various sources provided by Viva! constituted adequate evidence that over 35 hormones were present in cow’s milk.
“However, we were concerned that the studies were unable to account for confounding factors which could affect the results. We also noted that the papers referred to other conflicting evidence and all noted the need for additional studies to confirm their findings.”
Following the ruling, Viva! founder and director Juliet Gellatley said: “There’s plenty of scientific data linking milk and other dairy products to an increased risk of some cancers and many researchers are pointing the finger of blame at the hormones naturally present in dairy.”
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