Meat bosses have reacted furiously over the decision by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) not to uphold more than 67 complaints against an advert which equated meat-eating to child abuse.
Created by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the advert claimed "Feeding Kids Meat is Child Abuse", yet the ASA has decided not to take action.
Doug Brydges, president of the International Meat Trade Association (IMTA), said: "We're appalled by this strange decision. It doesn't seem balanced at all. The advertisement's claims are wrong and misleading." IMTA has now sent what Brydges described as a "robust" response to the ruling.
The ASA investigated the advert following complaints from IMTA, the National Farmers' Union, the Guild of Welsh Lamb & Beef Suppliers and members of the public. In a statement, the ASA said: "While the ASA appreciated that the ad carried an 'anti-meat' message, we considered that parents were likely to realise that, if a food was withdrawn from a child's diet, the nutrients that food provided should be replaced. We considered that parents were unlikely to withdraw meat from their children's diet without having an alternative source for its nutrients as a result of seeing the ad."
The ASA spokesperson said that the ad was likely to be seen as a demonstration of the very fervent beliefs of PETA and, therefore, was unlikely to cause serious offence.
The NFU has said the ASA made a wrong and perverse decision in failing to uphold complaints about the advertising campaign. A spokesman said: "There is no ground for arguing that eating meat does, of itself, contribute to childhood obesity, and for PETA to claim otherwise is both wrong and potentially damaging to health."
PETA campaign coordinator, Anita Singh, said: "Although the truth about breaking harmful eating habits may be hard to swallow, people have a right to hear it."
The NFU spokesman added they would be lodging a request for an independent review.