Advertising watchdog overwhelmed by complaints against new national milk campaign

Published by Sorcha McManigan on

November 9th, 2017

The advertising standards watchdog has been overwhelmed by complaints against the National Dairy Council’s (NDC) new campaign promoting Irish milk as a plant-based product.

The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) has received 58 complaints since the multimedia campaign – Irish Dairy the Complete Natural – launched earlier this week.

In comparison, the Authority received a total of 126 complaints in 2016 in relation to food and beverage–related advertisements.

Although complaints can still be made, a message on the ASAI’s website says that it has received a “sufficient number of complaints received to address” concerns over the milk advertising campaign.

“Given the extensive volume of evidence we have received to date of consumer sentiment, the submission of any NEW complaints is unnecessary under these particular circumstances,” the statement continues.

Message on ASAI’s Complaints page, 9 November 2017

The ASAI told The Green News that it will now review the complaints and assess if the advertising campaign is in line with its Code of Standards for Advertising and Marketing in Ireland.

The NDC’s campaign suggests that, as Irish cows are grass fed, milk produced here is therefore “completely natural plant-based milk”.

Several vegan groups, however, have raised concern, alleging that claims in the campaign are presenting inaccurate information on plant-based products.

Go Vegan World Director Sandra Higgins told The Green News that advertising milk that comes from animals that eat plants as plant-based is “misleading” advertising.

Higgins, who also runs an animal sanctuary for farmed animals, said that the “crumbling” dairy industry is simply trying to cash in on the growing trend of plant-based and vegan diets.

“In an effort to protect its commercial interest, it seeks to prioritise tradition and profit over animal rights and over the rights of the consumer public to accurate information,” Higgins added.

‘Quirky’ Campaign

In a statement, the NDC said that the use of the plant-based term in the campaign is a “quirky” reference to the fact that Irish cows graze on grass.

According to the CSO, a little over 45 million litres of milk was sold for human consumption in August 2017, up slightly from the previous year.

Despite this, the Council said that consumption rates among younger people are falling, with the new campaign “deliberately designed” to target younger consumers “moving away from dairy”.

Ms Higgins said that consumers are changing habits as the public become more aware of industry practices such as “the separation of babies from their mothers and the exploitation and slaughter of animals”.

Demonstration outside Natural Diary Bar pop-up shop Photo: Sorcha McManigan

A demonstration organised by the Vegan Information Project (VIP) took place this afternoon outside a pop-up shop set up by the NDC on South William’s Street, Co Dublin.

According to the organiser, Roger Yates, the demomstration was organised “for people to know the truth” about practices within the dairy industry.

“If people actually knew the process behind milk, the idea of dairy being natural gets washed away,” he said.

Mr Yates said that the campaign shows that the NDC is “running scared” of the growing non-dairy milk market and is trying to cause “confusion in the consumer’s mind”.

In a landmark ruling earlier this year, the European Court of Justice [ECJ] decided that vegan dairy-alternative products are not allowed carry a ‘milk’, ‘butter’ and ‘cheese’ label.

This includes the likes of soya and tofu products, although there are exemptions for almond milk, coconut milk and peanut butter.

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Sorcha McManigan

Sorcha has a Degree Honours in Journalism with French from DIT and is passionate about social issues and radio production