ASA Adjudication on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals t/a
PO Box 36668
18 June 2008
Number of complaints:
A circular, for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), showed a caricature of KFC frontman Colonel Sanders, grinning maniacally whilst holding a chicken by the legs in one hand and a kitchen knife pointing directly at it in the other. The chicken appeared to be in distress and had many feathers missing. The knife dripped blood and the Colonel's clothes were covered in blood splatters. Text stated "KFC Cruelty The Colonel's Secret Recipe Includes: Live Scalding, Painful Debeaking, Crippled Chickens PeTA KentuckyFriedCruelty.co.uk".
Text on the back of the circular stated "The Colonel's Secret Recipe Ingredients: Chickens (inquisitive and friendly animals who would naturally form social hierarchies, build nests, dust-bathe and care for their young) Cruelty Directions: Starve parent birds constantly and cut their beaks off with a hot blade. When the chicks are born, take them from their mothers immediately. Stuff them into a waste-filled shed with tens of thousands of other birds. Feed them growth-inducing antibiotics that may cripple them. Keep them in a faeces-contaminated shed for 6 to 7 weeks and hope they don't die of suffocation, respiratory disease or heart attacks. If they survive, toss them by the legs into a lorry with up to 6,000 other birds. Drive them to the abattoir in all weather extremes; many birds will die on the way. If they make it to the abattoir alive, thrust their spindly - likely broken - legs into shackles. Attempt to run them through an electric water bath that may or may not render them insensible to pain. Cut their throats (try to hit both veins, or they may not die for about 4 more minutes and may regain complete consciousness). Dump them into scalding-hot water to remove their feathers; even if they're still conscious or have regained consciousness, this won't affect the taste. Note: All KFC chickens must be slaughtered before they are 2 months old, out of a natural lifespan of more than 10 years. PLEASE HELP STOP THIS! Join us in urging KFC to set humane animal welfare standards for the animals killed for its restaurants …". The text was accompanied by three photographs, entitled "INGREDIENT", "PREPARATION" AND "DINNER", which respectively showed a chicken having its beak forced into a device, a chicken in poor condition with feathers missing and a row of chickens hanging upside down in a blood-stained abattoir.
The complainant, who received the circular through her letter box, challenged whether it was offensive, irresponsible and unsuitable for untargeted delivery. She was particularly concerned about its effect on children as it had caused distress to a child in her care who had picked it up.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
PETA explained that the leaflet was intended to highlight their views on KFC and animal welfare. They believed KFC's treatment of chickens to be abusive and upsetting and, in their opinion, consumers should be made aware of it. They pointed out that a recent consumer poll demonstrated that 21% of responders ranked animal welfare as their top concern and as an animal protection group it was their responsibility to share information about animal abuse with the public.
PETA said, in their view, disturbing facts should not be censored simply because they made some people feel uncomfortable and there was no indication that the leaflet had caused serious or widespread offence. They explained that they did not encourage the distribution of the leaflet through letter boxes or any form of untargeted delivery and pointed out that text on their website stated "Dont drop leaflets into mailboxes"; it was handed out only to willing takers and offered to activists and others who ordered it. They added that, since 2003, tens of thousands of the leaflets had been distributed without prompting any complaints.
They argued that the image of Colonel Sanders on the front of the leaflet was obviously a comic character and the statements and images in the leaflet were not intended to cause shock or distress, but depicted the treatment of chickens by KFC in a manner that lightened the burden of the message.
The ASA understood that the leaflet was intended to promote the views of PETA and their concerns about animal welfare. We also understood that PETA did not encourage or condone the leaflet's untargeted distribution and acknowledged that it was generally handed out or sent to those who willingly accepted it.
We considered, however, that the cartoon image on the front of the leaflet and the text and photographs shown on the rear of it were graphic and likely to upset recipients who had not been targeted and who were unaware of its context before reading it. We, therefore, appreciated the complainant's concern.
While we did not condone the leaflets untargeted distribution, we acknowledged the measures taken by PETA to ensure that the leaflet was not distributed indiscriminately and, while it was regrettable that it had caused distress to a child by being posted through a letterbox, we considered that PETA had made reasonable efforts to instruct its supporters not to distribute the leaflet in this way. In addition, we considered that only one complaint was likely to be an indicator that the leaflet had not been distributed widely in the same manner. We concluded that it had not been targeted inappropriately and was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or distress to children.
We investigated the circular under CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Responsible advertising), 5.1 (Decency) and 9.1 (Fear and distress) but did not find it in breach.
No action necessary.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)