The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has upheld complaints about PETA’s anti-milk campaign. PETA distributed a series of cartoon images to children, associating dairy milk with problems such as obesity, spots and flatulence.

Despite the ASA ruling, PETA plans to continue the campaign with slightly different cards. With liquid milk sales already in decline, the dairy industry now needs a strong marketing campaign of its own to counter the accusations.

Animal rights organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has been targeting schoolchildren in the UK and US since November last year, trying to put them off drinking dairy milk. Rather than focusing on the alleged cruelty of dairy farming, PETA has been harnessing children’s anxieties to convince them that possible negative reactions to milk outweigh the benefits of drinking it. Since Datamonitor already expects the volume of the UK liquid milk market to decline at an annual rate of 1.9% to 2005, this is a further complication producers do not need.

Unsurprisingly, the National Farmers’ Union of England and Wales, the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland, the Dairy Council and the Royal Agricultural Society of England all complained about PETA’s campaign cards. The complaints challenged claims that dairy milk caused obesity, flatulence, excess phlegm and acne. They also claimed that the cards were irresponsible, by trying to deter children from drinking milk even though it has proven nutritional benefits, and caused undue fear and distress to children. The ASA upheld all these complaints.

The cards featured a series of four cartoon characters: ‘Spotty Sue’ (‘Pimply Patty’ in the US), ‘Chubby Charlie,’ ‘Windy Wendy’ and ‘Phlegmy Phil’ (‘Loogie Louie’ in the US). These were accompanied by descriptions of the relevant conditions, associating the symptoms with drinking dairy milk. The cards also promoted PETA’s website, which describes the suffering cows can undergo in the meat and dairy industry.

Despite the ASA judgment, PETA plans to continue with the campaign. The group has redesigned the cards to meet the ASA’s recommendations closer and will now be targeting 14-17 year olds, rather than the previous target of children aged 10-12. 100,000 of the new cards are on their way.

The milk industry has discovered that it can’t stop PETA’s campaigning. The best way to combat the organization now will be to launch a program of defensive marketing to the same age groups as soon as possible, to counter PETA’s propaganda.

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