A PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) poster advertisement featured a toddler smoking a cigar, with the caption "You Wouldn't Let Your Child Smoke. Like smoking, eating meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Go vegan!"
Two people complained that the claim "eating meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer" was misleading, but PETA defended its position, submitting several studies and a factsheet from US non-profit organisation, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which recommends avoiding all animal products because they contain cholesterol.
The ASA noted that two of the studies submitted by PETA examined the overall effect of a vegetarian diet –which typically varied in many ways from a non-vegetarian diet – rather than solely cardiovascular risk from eating meat. It also disregarded the factsheet, which it said only reflected one viewpoint, and it noted that another school of thought suggests that it is the mix of fat and carbohydrates in the diet, rather than the amount of cholesterol consumed, that has the biggest impact on blood cholesterol – which is a known risk factor for heart disease.
In its ruling, the ASA said: “We considered that because the ad likened the risks associated with eating any kind of meat to the risks of smoking, consumers would understand from the ad that the connection between eating any kind of meat and the risk of heart disease and cancer had been proven beyond doubt, which was clearly not the case, and we therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.”
The ASA acknowledged that some of the studies submitted did suggest a link between certain dietary patterns – including processed meat consumption in particular – and risk of heart disease or cancer, but they were not conclusive, and did not always examine consumption of all types of meat.
It concluded: “The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told PETA not to imply that any consumption of meat would raise the risk of heart disease and cancer.”
The full ruling is available online here.