In a ruling published today, the ASA upheld one complaint and rejected three others about the RSPCA poster and press advert, headlined ‘Vaccinate or Exterminate?’"The UK government wants to shoot England’s badgers," the advert said. "We want to vaccinate them – and save their lives".
Complaints about the advert were made by Simon Hart, the Conservative MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and a former chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, Antoinette Sandbach, shadow minister for rural affairs in Wales, and 116 others.
The ASA said that most of the complainants claimed the ads – in particular the use of the term "exterminate" – were misleading. Complainants said it was "inaccurate and alarmist", because the proposed cull was a trial to be conducted in only two areas of the country.
The ASA agreed that consumers were likely to interpret the advert as meaning that all badgers would be destroyed in the cull areas, and upheld the complaint. But it rejected complaints in three other areas.
The ASA said that the RSPCA should not use the adverts again in their current form. It should also not use language in future advertising that implies that the whole badger population in the cull areas would be culled, the ASA said.
Copies of a draft ASA ruling on the RSPCA advert, which said at the time that the advert was misleading, were leaked to the media in October.
An RSPCA spokesman said: "The RSPCA welcomes the judgement by the ASA to dismiss three out of four of the areas of complaint about the advert we placed in the Metro newspaper in June to highlight concerns about the pilot badger culls. We respectfully disagree in relation to the one area of complaint that has been upheld.
"The advert referred to the fact that removing more than 70 per cent of the badger population in the cull areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset is a virtual eradication of a much-loved species in these areas. We still believe the word ‘exterminate’ describes this accurately and that the public would have been aware at the time of the plan to eradicate 70 per cent of badgers."