The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) have sided with vegan advertisers, Go Vegan World, in what is being described as a ‘landmark decision’.

After releasing an advert in February 2017 with the claim ‘HUMANE MILK IS A MYTH’, Go Vegan World were the subject of seven different complaints put into the ASA, one of which was from the National Farmer’s Union (NFU). However, they have been cleared of the claim that they have in anyway misled the public about the reality of dairy farming.

Unsurprisingly, this ruling has been the subject of some criticism both from NFU and concerningly from the RSPCA, a charity whose website claims that they ‘specialise in animal rescue & furthering the welfare cause for all animals.’ Apparently this doesn’t extend to animals living on British farms. As an ambassador for the RSPCA, David Bowles has stated that “they used very emotive and anthropomorphic language, applying human emotions to a calf or dairy cow. I don’t believe we have scientific evidence to support that.” However, this is untrue. A 2011 study found that cows are capable of feeling complex emotions and have the ability to form close friendships and experience anxiety if they’re separated.

NFU member Michael Oakes has also put forward the questionable claim that ‘cows are not that maternal.’ Additionally he has stated that calves are happy to bond with their handlers and ‘as long as they are fed well, watered well, have clean bedding and can interact with other calves’ they’re perfectly happy. However, scientific research has indicated that separating calves from their mothers at too early a stage in their life can have a serious effect on their socialising abilities later in life. The argument that cows cry for their babies is also often put forward and there is video footage of rescued cows that suggest that cows do feel a strong bond with their children, just like other mammals do.

Recently the dairy industry had an advert about organic milk banned by the ASA because it described the product as ‘good for the land.’ It seems the ASA aren’t blind to the truth about the dairy industry and are beginning to stop them from being allowed to hide it.

The ruling has also opened up debate about animal welfare standards. Understandably, Sarah Higgins, director of Go Vegan World, believes the debate surrounding animal welfare improvements are pointless. In the end all animals used in agriculture live unpleasant lives and often short lives. Higgins is quoted as saying ‘We have been having this debate for hundreds of years on how to improve the conditions of those animals we use and it hasn’t been effective. We wouldn’t swap places with them.’ Once again the RSPCA has made a shocking statement about animal welfare standards, with Bowles claiming that ‘you can rear, transport and slaughter an animal according to good welfare standards and therefore they can be humanely . . . eaten.

However, the ASA’s ruling has essentially suggested that current animal welfare standards in the dairy industry, at least, can be classed as inhumane. Although this ruling only officially effects vegan’s ability to advertise, it may have a positive knock on effect for the way we talk about the animal agricultural industry as a whole.

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