ASA Non-broadcast Adjudication: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals t/a
PO Box 36668
22 March 2006
The Research Defence Society (RDS) objected to a mailing about vivisection. Text stated "Dear Friend, We want 'your two pennies worth' because we believe - and want you to know how much - your opinion matters ... That's why: PETA ... is distributing this national poll to you as part of our massive effort to alert people to the cruelty of animal experiments ... ". The mailing featured a number of "facts" regarding vivisection and invited readers to fill out the enclosed questionnaire about animal rights and a donation form. RDS challenged the claims:
1. "Fact: Nearly 3 million sensitive animals - monkeys, rabbits, mice and others - are killed in the UK each year in painful experiments", because they believed a significant number of the experiments carried out were not painful;
2. "Fact: Animal experiments are crude and unreliable", because they believed animal experiments were a sophisticated form of research which had contributed to many major medical advances;
3. "Although animals feel pain just as much as we do, their physiologies are vastly different from humans", because it misleadingly implied that experiments on animals were of little value to human medical research;
4. "Fact: Vivisectors ... continue using barbaric animal experiments out of habit and inertia", because the Home Office only granted licences for animal experimentation according to strict criteria and it was illegal to conduct experiments on animals if an alternative was available and
5. " ghastly gravy train" and "barbaric", because they believed those claims unfairly denigrated researchers taking part in research using animals and misrepresented their motives for doing so.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
1. Complaint upheld
PETA believed the RDS took a very narrow view of the experience of animals in laboratories; they believed the totality of the animals' experience should be considered, potentially incorporating the stress of capture, transportation, handling, housing in confined and unnatural conditions, training procedures and the psychological and physical stress of breeding and the subsequent removal of the offspring. They said the conditions in laboratories would deny animals the specialised needs of their individual species, which would result in stress; they gave a number of examples of such situations. They said in many laboratories animals were handled roughly, including during routine monitoring procedures, and that would heighten their fear and stress. They sent documents that claimed mice housed in standard cages suffered from "impaired brain development, abnormal repetitive behaviours (stereotypies) and an anxious behavioral profile". They also sent a review of clinical trials that concluded that routine procedures resulted in the animals suffering from stress. They said the development of transgenic animals and subsequent breeding resulted in significant suffering because animals were deliberately bred to manifest genetic defects that could be painful and result in premature death because they were not biologically viable. They said the preferred killing method of mice and rats was gassing and some laboratories did not use best practice, resulting in prolonged suffering.
The ASA noted animals might suffer from stress, and resulting disorders due to the experience of laboratory procedures. We also noted the development of transgenic animals in breeding procedures might cause some animals to die painfully even if they were not the subject of invasive treatments. We considered, however, that readers would infer that pain related to physical discomfort. Whilst PETA had demonstrated that nearly 3 million animals had died in the last year after being involved in experiments and that animals might suffer from stress from routine laboratory procedures, they had not submitted evidence to demonstrate that nearly 3 million animals died as a result of painful experiments. We told PETA not to repeat the claim in the absence of substantiation.
2. & 3. Complaint upheld
PETA said many of the most important advances in health were attributable to human studies. They said a reliance on animal tests had proved dangerous or misleading. They sent a report from the Medical Research Modernization Committee that suggested discrepancies between human and animal data had resulted in a delay in health warnings linking cigarette smoke to lung cancer. They sent a number of documents, including articles, testimonials and a published paper, that questioned the applicability of animal experiments to human conditions. They said high-tech replacements for animals experiments were being lauded throughout the industry as being faster, cheaper and more closely mimicking human responses; they sent a number of articles to support that view. They believed an underlying reason for the poor results obtained through animal experiments was the differences between human and animal physiologies; they sent a number of research papers and articles to support their view.
We noted the claims appeared together, at the beginning of a paragraph that went on to give examples of treatments that had different effects on humans and animals, such as "if aspirin had been tested on cats, it would have killed them" and "anti-AIDS drugs are tested on chimpanzees even though Great Apes don't get the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)". We considered that, taken together, the claims implied the differences between human and animal physiologies rendered the results of animal experiments crude or inapplicable to humans. We noted animal experiments were often carried out in order to study biological interactions or in the course of toxicity or pharmacological testing, rather than to assess the efficacy of treatment, and the results of animal experiments often therefore informed the development of treatments for humans, even if animals did not suffer the same diseases or the overall effects of the treatment were different. Although we considered that PETA had demonstrated that animal physiologies were different from human physiologies, we considered that the implication that physiological differences rendered the results of animal experiments crude or inapplicable to humans was misleading.
4. Complaint upheld
PETA disagreed with the RDS's assertion that the Home Office granted licences for an experiment only under strict conditions, quoting a British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) report that alleged the Government had granted licences for toxicity tests on animals despite the existence of refinement or alternative techniques. They said licences had been granted to experimenters working on xenotransplantation using primates, despite the alternative of the implementation of educational programs aimed at encouraging human organ donation. They said in recent years, the peer review process, by which grants for proposed research were judged, had been scrutinised and they submitted two articles that argued there had been abuses of the current system.
We noted PETA believed scientists had not used available alternative methods in certain instances. We noted the regulatory system for medicines often obliged researchers to carry out animal tests and animal research could be carried out only if the experiments satisifed Home Office conditions. Although we noted PETA disagreed with the Home Office criteria and they believed viable alternatives to animal research were available, we considered that the claim was misleading because the regulatory system, not merely habit and inertia, caused researchers to carry out animal research. We told them not to repeat the claim.
5. Complaint upheld
PETA said investigations conducted inside UK laboratories had produced a great deal of evidence to prove that the treatment of animals in laboratories was quite often barbaric and cruel and gave examples. They said the use of animals in commercial testing was certainly driven by profit. They believed it was easier for scientists to receive funding for animal testing rather than clinical trials in the current culture of funding; they submitted an academic paper to support their view.
We considered that the claims "ghastly" and "barbaric" were likely to be taken as expressions of PETA's opinion. We considered, however, that the claim "... gravy train fuelled by millions of pounds from taxes paid by people like you ..." was unlikely to be seen as an expression of opinion and would instead be read as a claim that those carrying out animal experiments made large profits. We considered that, when both sentences were read together, they implied animal researchers continued to carry out animal experimentation, ignoring viable alternatives, merely out of habit, inertia or a desire for profit. Because safety testing on animals was a regulatory requirement in some contexts, such as the approval of drugs for clinical trials, we considered that the implication was misleading. We concluded that the claims could denigrate those carrying out animal experimentation and told PETA not to repeat the claims. We advised them to seek guidance from the CAP Copy Advice team when preparing future mailings.
The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness), and 20.1 (Denigration and unfair advantage).