The ad, devised by agency Open Fundraising, ran in the Metro newspaper and stated: “The UK government wants to shoot England’s badgers. We want to vaccinate them – and save their lives.”
It added: “The government’s proposed badger cull could begin at any time, despite scientific evidence that slaughtering thousands of England’s badgers is unlikely to stop the spread of bovine TB in cattle. Will you help us continue our campaign to stop the cull?”
Some 119 people complained about the ad, including Conservative MP Simon Hart, the Farmers’ Union of Wales and Welsh Conservative Assembly Member Antoinette Sandbach, sparking an Advertising Standards Authority probe.
In its defence, the RSPCA said the word “exterminate” had been used “carefully and deliberately”, and added it had “a literal meaning of total eradication and a common use meaning of killing on a massive scale”.
It said the culls were “based on an assertion that at least 70% of the estimated badger population would need to be killed in a given area to have the desired impact on the spread of bovine TB”.
But the ASA said the general population, who had not taken an active interest in the issue, would not be aware of the proportion of badgers expected to be culled. It added: “We therefore considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claim, along with the text ‘The UK government wants to shoot England’s badgers’, to mean that all badgers would be eradicated in the cull areas.”
The regulator ruled the ad must not appear again in its current form.
The RSPCA was defiant. A spokesman said: “We still believe the word ‘exterminate’ accurately describes this and that the public would have been aware at the time of the plan to eradicate 70% of badgers.
“These are facts which were reported in the majority of the media at the time, as well as our own press statements, and public awareness of these facts were widespread.”
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