A British vegan activist group’s “misleading” advert linking cow’s milk to cancer has been banned.
Posters put out by Viva!, a veganism advocacy charity, featured an image of a cow’s udder and included the claims that hormones in cow milk are linked to cancer.
“Some dairy industry facts we bet you don’t know. Most cows are pregnant when milking. That’s why milk contains 35 hormones, including oestrogen … some of these are linked to cancer. Milk is for babies, so let Viva! wean you off the teat!” the advert reads.
The poster was displayed on buses in Bristol, UK, and flagged in September by watchdogs.
The people who complained about the ad to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that the claim “milk contains 35 hormones, including oestrogen … some of these are linked to cancer” implied that drinking cow’s milk could cause cancer.
The ad was banned by the ASA after a determination that Viva! was unable to substantiate claims with “robust evidence” that hormones in cow milk are linked to cancer.
In formulating its assessment, the ASA reviewed the body of scientific evidence put forward by Viva! in support of its claim.
Three scientific papers referred to by Viva!, in the opinion of the ASA, amounted to “discussions” of how substances found in milk might increase the risk of cancer and other diseases, but failed to provide “definitive evidence.”
The ASA challenged two of those papers on grounds of “conflicting evidence” and argued that none of the three papers subjected the studies that they referenced to a “rigorous analysis.”
The remaining four papers cited by Viva! were blasted for a range of shortcomings, including that findings were unreliable because of “confounding factors” that researchers were to account for.
According to the ASA, for the ad not to be banned, its claim must be supported by “robust evidence.”
“We considered that such a claim must be substantiated by robust evidence that demonstrated a link between the naturally occurring hormones in cow’s milk with incidences of cancer in human populations,” an ASA spokesperson said.
Viva! responded to the ASA ruling by emphasizing that they had provided “plenty of scientific evidence showing how dairy consumption and the hormones in dairy increase the risk of many types of cancer,” but did not address the shortcomings of the studies identified by ASA.
Instead, Viva! cited the findings of the studies.
“Recent epidemiological studies indicating a very strong relation between milk and dairy products high consumption and high incidence of testicular and prostate cancers,” Viva! wrote in a statement, citing a paper published in the Iranian Journal of Public Health.
Viva! also stressed that the ad stated the hormones were “linked to” cancer, rather than that they “caused” cancer.
But the ASA found the ad misleading and banned it.
“While the claim stated that some hormones in cow’s milk were ‘linked’ to cancer rather than definitively stating that they caused cancer, the ASA considered that consumers would nonetheless interpret it to mean that because of the hormones that were present in cow’s milk, drinking cow’s milk could increase a person’s risk of developing cancer,” an ASA spokesperson said.
“The studies and meta-analysis did not support Viva’s assertion that the findings of increased risk of cancer were specifically a result of the hormones present in cow’s milk rather than to other factors.”
“We therefore concluded the claim ‘milk contains 35 hormones, including oestrogen …some of these are linked to cancer’, as it would be understood by consumers to mean that due to the presence of hormones, drinking cow’s milk could increase a person’s risk of developing cancer, had not been substantiated and was therefore misleading.”
The spokesperson added that the ASA “told Viva! not to make claims which stated or implied that due to the presence of hormones, drinking cow’s milk could increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.”
Viva! founder and director Juliet Gellatley said: “there’s 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.”