Summary of Council decision:
1 issue investigated and Not Upheld
A poster for Go Vegan World, a vegan campaign group, seen on 1 January 2018 on a London bus, featured the headline claim “THEY TRUST US. WE TORTURE THEM FOR RESEARCH”. Below the text was an image of a mouse touching a human hand. Text below the image stated “GOVEGANWORLD.com”. Smaller text stated Eden Animal Sanctuary.
The complainant, a medical research scientist, challenged whether the claim “we torture them for research” was misleading and could be substantiated.
Go Vegan World Company Ltd t/a Go Vegan World said that the ad was designed to remind the public that animals used in research had the capacity to experience and feel pain. They said that every minute of every day, seven animals were used for animal testing research in the UK for a variety of purposes such as toxicity tests and medical research including genetic modification. They emphasised that the ad did not specify a particular type of research because they believed that all research on living animals caused pain and suffering. Although an EU ban on animal testing for the purpose of cosmetic products existed, they argued that it was not a complete ban.
Go Vegan World said that torture was defined in the Collins English dictionary as “to torture someone means to cause them to suffer mental pain or anxiety” and in the Cambridge online dictionary as “to be cruel to a person or animal”. They provided extracts from a declaration signed by a group of neuroscientists and a paper on fish sentience which concluded that animals could generate consciousness.
Go Vegan World acknowledged the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) which required that anyone experimenting upon protected animals must be licensed. They referred to the latest annual statistics released by the Home Office about the number of animals experimented in Britain from 2017. The statistics showed that there were a total of 3.94 million procedures completed in Britain in 2016. Of the experimental procedures performed, 72% involved rodents. They emphasised that the number of regulated procedures did not correspond with the number of animals used because some animals were re-used when they had fully recovered from a previous procedure as referenced in the Home Office 2016 report.
Go Vegan World referred to the 2016 severity assessment and classifications on experimental procedures by scientists. The statistics showed that 81% (approximately 1.63 million) of experiments carried out in the UK involved the infliction of pain and suffering on an animal greater than the pain caused by the insertion of a hypodermic needle. They said that 695,000 of experiments were reported to involve moderate to severe pain and suffering which they said was comparable to an operation or long-term disease.
Go Vegan World highlighted a number of concerns about the self-reporting system by scientists, such as researcher bias, the difficulty in determining the subjective nature of pain and suffering and the varying level of suffering experienced during experiments. They said that severity reports were not required for the creation or breeding of genetically modified or mutated animals. They also argued that the self-reporting nature of the process did not account for the psychological suffering associated with pain endurance or the inherent suffering involved in the animals being kept in captivity. They said that the analysis of suffering endured was flawed because it was prospective and did not take a retrospective account of the effects experienced by the animals.
Go Vegan World said that no experimentation on animals could be justified. They said that many people supported animal research for medical purposes but that those arguments were often based on poor information about the actual testing carried out and its purpose. They highlighted the fact that animal experimentation was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act which could provide people with more information to make informed decisions about the area. They acknowledged that there were regulations in place for experiments on animals, but it was difficult to assess compliance with those regulations because of the limited information scientists were required to report on animal research.
Go Vegan World said that undercover investigations revealed reports of neglect in animal testing. They highlighted the cases of unauthorised procedures as detailed in the Home Office Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU) annual report for 2015 which showed 55 cases of non-compliance by testing centres across Britain.
Go Vegan World said that most people were not sufficiently informed about the unreliability of the data from animal testing in terms of its relevance to humans and the tendency of researchers to only publish positive outcomes from testing.
The ASA noted that at the bottom of the poster, text stated “GOVEGANWORLD.COM” with smaller text stating “Eden Animal Sanctuary”. We therefore considered that readers would understand that the ad was by an animal rights campaign group. While we acknowledged that torture in certain contexts referred to the infliction of pain that was unnecessary, gratuitous and extreme, in this context, we considered that readers would understand the claim “torture” to be Go Vegan World’s own emotive and expressive representation of the pain inflicted on animals. While readers would appreciate that the ad represented Go Vegan World’s own perspective, we considered they would nevertheless understand from the ad that a significant number of animals in animal testing and experiments would experience pain, suffering and harm as part of that process.
We understood that the Home Office published annual statistics on the severity assessments of the pain, suffering or lasting harm experienced by animals in scientific procedures in Great Britain. The severity reports from the 2016 statistics on experimental procedures showed that 46% of animals (938,000) were assessed as mild which meant that the animal experienced short-term mild pain, suffering or distress with no significant impairment of the well-being or general condition of the animal. A further 29% of animals (581,000) were assessed as moderate which meant that the animal experienced short-term moderate pain, suffering or distress of long-lasting mild pain, suffering or distress with a likely cause of moderate impairment of the well-being or general condition of the animal. Finally, 6% of animals (114,000) were assessed as severe which meant that the animal experienced severe pain, suffering or distress, or long-lasting moderate pain, suffering or distress with a likely case of severe impairment of the well-being or general condition of the animal. Those statistics showed that 81% of experimental procedures involved the infliction of pain and suffering on an animal, greater than the insertion of a needle into their body. We considered that the statistics sufficiently demonstrated that some animals involved in experimental procedures during 2016 experienced a degree of pain and suffering through research and this justified the use of the claim in the ad.
We therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to materially mislead readers.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. and 3.6 3.6 Subjective claims must not mislead the consumer; marketing communications must not imply that expressions of opinion are objective claims. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), but did not find in breach.
No further action necessary.