The ad featured the slogan: "Feeding kids meat is child abuse. Fight the fat go veg". The Advertising Standards Authority received complaints from The National Farmers' Union, Hughes Butchers, the Guild of Welsh Lamb and Beef Suppliers, the International Meat Trade Association and members of the public.
The majority of the complaints believed the ad was irresponsible because it could encourage parents to withdraw meat from their children's diet without replacing the nutrients meat provided. A large number of complainants also said the ad trivialised child abuse and a smaller amount felt the ad was misleading as it implied eating meat could lead to obesity.
In response, Peta argued that scientific evidence demonstrated the harmful effects of eating meat on people generally and on children in particular. The organisation sent references to articles published by several authors to demonstrate its argument, that feeding meat to children was harmful to health and also causing serious harm to a child in this way could be considered child abuse.
Peta claimed that the definition of child abuse varied and was not limited to acts of physical violence. It said that feeding a child a diet likely to provoke severe health effects was tantamount to abuse. The organisation said that the ad used humorous imagery that was intended to appeal to parents. It said that no efforts to heighten fear or distress on a level disproportionate to the risks of eating meat were made.
Peta added that the ad was intended to solely encourage healthy dietary choices for children; it was therefore designed out of a sense of social responsibility. It suggested that the statement "Feeding kids meat is child abuse" was a statement of fact, given that meat was significantly harmful to health.
The ASA did not uphold any of the complaints made against the ad. It ruled that although the ad was anti-meat, parents were likely to realise that is meat was withdrawn from a child's diet, appropriate nutrients should be replaced.
In respect to the trivialising of child abuse, the ASA ruled that, although any reference to child abuse is shocking and often deemed inappropriate, Peta's extreme objections to meat-eating and the reasons it asserted for its objections were valid to use such hard-hitting language in support of its aim.
The advertising watchdog concluded that the ad was unlikely to mislead consumers into believing meat-eating was responsible for obesity, because it is generally understood by consumers that meat-eating, in the context of a sensible and balanced diet, was the not the primary cause of obesity.
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