A poster for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) featured an image of a toddler smoking a cigar. Text stated "You Wouldn't Let Your Child Smoke. Like smoking, eating meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Go vegan! PeTA".
Two complainants challenged whether the claim "eating meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer" was misleading and could be substantiated.
PETA said the link between meat and an increased risk of heart disease and some cancers had been repeatedly documented in a number of medical studies and reports and, as such, they did not feel that the claim was misleading. They submitted a number of medical studies which they said provided ample evidence to support the claim, along with a factsheet produced by a non-profit organisation in the USA, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which recommended that all animal products should be avoided because they contained cholesterol, which was linked to heart problems. The studies they provided examined the risk of hospitalisation or death from ischemic heart disease (IHD) among vegetarians and non-vegetarians; the effect of a vegetarian diet on health; the associations between dietary protein and disease and mortality in postmenopausal women; the effect of consuming red and processed meat on the risk of pancreatic cancer; and the effect of meat consumption on the risk of breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
THIS ADJUDICATION REPLACES THAT PUBLISHED ON 26 JUNE 2013. THE WORDING HAS BEEN CHANGED BUT THE ‘UPHELD’ DECISION REMAINS THE SAME.
The ASA noted that PETA had provided three prospective studies to support the claim that eating meat increased the risk of heart disease, one of which related only to postmenopausal women. We were concerned that the first and second study both looked at the overall effect of a vegetarian diet, rather than specifically studying the effect of eating meat on IHD risk. We acknowledged that the researchers had attempted to adjust for other risk factors that were known to be associated with IHD, such as weight and smoking status. We noted that both studies had found differences in diet, other than simply whether or not meat was consumed between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, for example, a higher intake of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains amongst vegetarians in the first study, but that these factors had not been adjusted for because the studies were not designed to look at the effect of meat consumption in isolation. We noted that later analysis of the second study had concluded that a vegetarian diet was not significantly associated with a reduction in mortality from IHD and that, even if it could be interpreted as such, the data did not justify excluding meat from the diet, because there were several attributes of a vegetarian diet which might reduce the risk of IHD, other than not eating meat. With regard to the third study which examined the impact of dietary protein on postmenopausal women, PETA stated that the study had found that those who ate the most meat were at the greatest risk of heart disease. However, we noted that the researchers had concluded that animal protein per se was not associated with any of the outcomes studied, but rather that replacing carbohydrate servings in the diet with a composite of red and processed meat increased the risk of coronary heart disease mortality in postmenopausal women, which we did not consider was sufficient substantiation for the implied claim that eating any meat would increase the risk of heart disease for people in general. We did not consider that the factsheet provided could provide substantiation for the claim because it only expressed the opinion of one group and because we noted that there was another body of opinion that believed that the biggest influence on blood cholesterol, which was linked to heart problems, was the mix of fats and carbohydrates consumed in the diet, rather than the amount of dietary cholesterol consumed.
PETA had also submitted a further four medical studies which they believed substantiated the claim that eating meat increased the risk of cancer. The first of these was a meta-analysis of 11 studies examining the link between red and processed meat consumption and pancreatic cancer. We acknowledged that the study had concluded that processed meat consumption appeared to be associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. However, we noted that no general connection had been found between unprocessed red meat and pancreatic cancer and that the researchers acknowledged that the study had limitations and that further studies were warranted to examine the possible connection further.
The second study submitted examined the connection between meat consumption and breast cancer amongst women between 35 and 69 years of age and concluded that women generally consuming the most total meat, red meat and processed meat had the highest risk of breast cancer, when compared with non-consumers, though red and processed meat were only statistically significant postmenopausally and non-processed meat was only significant premenopausally. However, we noted that there was no statistically significant linear association with the consumption of poultry or offal in either pre- or postmenopausal women and that previous studies had also tended to conclude that consuming poultry was not a risk factor and may in fact be inversely associated with breast cancer risk. The study had also found that, in premenopausal women, those who consumed low amounts of meat were at less risk than vegetarians of getting breast cancer.
The third and fourth studies submitted by PETA examined the relationship between meat consumption and colorectal cancer. The results of the third study indicated that a high intake of red and processed meat was associated with a higher risk of colon cancer after adjusting for age and energy intake, but not after further adjustment for body mass index, cigarette smoking and other factors. The fourth study prospectively followed 478,040 men and women from a number of European countries, to examine the relationship between intakes of red and processed meat, poultry and fish, and colorectal cancer risk. The study concluded that colorectal cancer risk was positively associated with high consumption of red and processed meat However, we noted that when red and processed meat were analysed separately only processed meat consumption was statistically significantly associated with increased colorectal cancer risk and that that risk was not related to poultry intake.
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, which was clearly not the case, and we therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (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).
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.