Vivisection is a subject that rouses strong passions from both sides of the debate. Some marketers have found themselves on the wrong side of an Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruling because they have over-claimed, often about the value of animal testing in medical research. During its investigations, the ASA has accepted that animal testing can be relevant for human health and medical progress and that, generally, the scientific community consider it necessary.
In 2014, the ASA investigated a complaint about an ad which stated “HELP STOP Britain’s shocking monkey business…The UK uses more monkeys than any other EU country…Animals react differently to substances, including drugs, so animal safety tests cannot accurately predict what will happen in humans…” The complaint was upheld because The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) did not provide up to date comparative data to support the claim that the UK uses more monkeys than any other EU country. Specifically, the ad did not make clear that their data was based on an average of figures from three of the most recent reports from 2005, 2008 and 2011. In the absence of the claim being qualified, consumers were likely to understand that the data related to the most up-to-date comparative figures only. Marketers are therefore reminded to qualify their claims appropriately so that readers are clear exactly what a claim is based on.
In relation to the claim “animal safety tests cannot accurately predict what will happen in humans” the ASA understood that it is generally accepted within the scientific community that there is value in toxicity testing on animals. It is also a legal requirement in the UK that new medicines are tested on animals before they are tested on humans. The evidence provided by NAVS did not demonstrate that animal testing for safety had little predictive value for clinical testing but rather, the claim related to the view of one section of the scientific community only. This wasn’t clarified in the ad, and so the claim was considered misleading. The marketer was also unable to substantiate the claim “The TGN 1412 drug trial disaster could have been avoided using a technique known as ‘micro-dosing’ with spectrometry analysis”. Their evidence demonstrated that some scientists had suggested the use of microdosing might have detected the toxicity to humans of TGN1412, but did not demonstrate that this was highly likely to be the case (The National Anti-Vivisection Society Ltd, 24 December 2014).
The ASA has accepted that, although there are alternatives in some instances, animal testing cannot yet be fully replaced: some drugs that have undergone tests during development have not been released for human use, because tests on animals have demonstrated an unacceptable safety risk. In short, the ASA has so far accepted that animal testing is neither worthless nor avoidable in all circumstances and marketers who are against vivisection should not claim or imply that it is.
Marketers may express their opinions about the merits of vivisection and to raise awareness of the possible alternatives to animal research, but should not present their strongly-held opinions as fact if those claims are unproven (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 22 March 2006). As long as a marketer presents a claim in a way which makes it sufficiently clear to consumers that a statement is a matter of opinion rather than a proven fact, the ASA is likely to consider such a claim, acceptable (Europeans for Medical Progress Trust, 7 November 2007).
Anti-vivisection marketing should neither offend nor cause fear or distress. Marketers distributing material that features photographs of animals should carefully consider their audience. Door-drop leaflets with, for example, graphic photographs that could be seen by children may be unacceptable. Furthermore, marketers should ensure that photographs used are relevant to both the UK and medical research practice. See Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidance on Animals and Fear and Distress for more information.
Claims that state or imply that experiments are unregulated or that animal welfare is ignored are unlikely to be acceptable.
CAP understands that the Home Office grants licenses for animal experiments only under strict conditions and only if no alternative exists. The use of animals in experiments and testing is regulated under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). The legislation was revised and came into force on 1 January 2013. It now reflects European Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. You can read more about this here.
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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