Vegan activist group Viva! has been rapped by the ASA after one of its ads suggested milk could cause cancer.
The advert, which appeared on buses across the Bristol area last September, carried wording which claimed “milk contains 35 hormones, including oestrogen … some of these are linked to cancer”.
The ASA upheld two complaints against the ad campaign on the grounds they were misleading and could not be thoroughly substantiated. The watchdog has banned the ads and warned Viva! against making similar claims in the future.
Though Viva!’s ads claimed some hormones in cow’s milk were “linked” to rather than caused cancer, the ASA found consumers would interpret it to mean drinking cow’s milk could increase a person’s risk of developing cancer due to the existence of those hormones.
The group told the ASA it believed it was appropriate to say “linked to” because dairy consumption and the hormones present in milk had been associated with increased risk of some cancers, citing examples by the NHS referring to “links” between certain substances and cancers.
However, the ASA said none of the papers submitted by Viva! in its response to the complaints cited definitive evidence demonstrating the hormones present in cow’s milk increased the risk of cancer. Of the seven studies submitted by Viva!, four found conflicting evidence in that area, while the ASA suggested two others could not account for confounding factors in its data.
But in response to the ASA ruling Viva! founder and director, Juliet Gellatley was unrepentant. She insisted there was “plenty of scientific data linking milk and other dairy products to an increased risk of some cancers and many researchers are pointing the finger of blame at the hormones naturally present in dairy”.
She added: “If the ad had contained a more specific wording, such as ‘linked to breast, ovarian and prostate cancer’ – for which the evidence is the strongest - it would have probably been accepted as appropriate. The ASA ruling only found an issue with the claim being too generic, not with it being unfounded.”