An RSPCA advert suggesting that badgers in cull areas would be “exterminated” has been banned following 119 complaints.
The ad featured an image of a syringe and bullet at the top of the page with a headline reading “Vaccinate or exterminate?” before text continued: “The UK government wants to shoot England’s badgers. We want to vaccinate them – and save their lives.”
It continued: “The Government’s proposed badger cull could begin at any time, despite scientific evidence that slaughtering thousands of England’s badgers is unlikely to stop the spread of bovine TB in cattle. Will you help us continue our campaign to stop the cull?”
Conservative MP Simon Hart, the Farmers’ Union of Wales, Welsh Conservative AM Antoinette Sandbach and 116 members of the public complained about the ad, with most saying the term “exterminate” was inaccurate and alarmist.
The RSPCA said the word “exterminate” was used carefully and deliberately, saying it had “a literal meaning of total eradication and a common use meaning of killing on a massive scale”.
It said the proposed cull of badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire was based on an assertion that at least 70% of the estimated badger population would need to be killed in a given area to have the desired impact on the spread of bovine TB.
It said information from the Government’s policy on bovine TB and badger control in England highlighted that it was possible that more than 70% of the badger population in the pilot areas would be killed, and there was “a real risk that badger populations in some areas of the cull could be wiped out completely”.
The RSPCA said while the culls may not result in the total eradication of badgers in England as a whole, it was possible that in certain areas within the cull zones the loss of badgers could be total.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) acknowledged the RSPCA’s assertion that the e-petitions, consultations, press coverage and their own campaigning material ensured that consumers would be aware of the 70% cull benchmark, and that they would therefore be aware that not all badgers would be culled.
However it said the general population, who had not taken an active interest in the proposals, would not be aware of the proportion of badgers expected to be culled as part of the Government’s plans.
The ASA said: “We therefore considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claim, along with the text ‘The UK government wants to shoot England’s badgers’, to mean that all badgers would be eradicated in the cull areas.
“On that basis, we concluded the claim was likely to mislead.”
It ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form, adding: “We told the RSPCA not to use language in future advertising that implied the whole badger population in the cull areas would be culled.”