AN advertisement placed by the RSPCA which claimed that badgers were being "exterminated" by the Government was in breach of guidelines, according to a draft judgment by the advertising standards watchdog.
The charity's advertisement against the extended pilot culls taking place in West Somerset and Gloucestershire was headlined "Vaccinate or Exterminate?" and showed a bullet alongside a needle.
Published in the Metro newspaper, it said: "The UK Government wants to shoot England's badgers. We want to vaccinate them – and save their lives."
But more than 100 people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), saying the use of the term "exterminate" was misleading because shooting was only being trialled.
The RSPCA told the ASA its claims were backed by estimates that in the cull areas at least 70 per cent of the local badger population would have to be shot for the cull, aimed at controlling bovine TB, to be effective.
"While the culls may not result in the total eradication of badgers in England as a whole," it argued, "it was possible that in certain areas within the cull zones the loss of badgers could be total".
The ASA has provisionally upheld the complaints, saying the RSPCA should not have used the term "exterminate". It was possible, the authority said, that "the number of animals culled could be significantly lower".
"We considered that consumers would not be aware of what proportion of the badger population was expected to be culled as part of the Government's plans and we therefore considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claim to mean that all badgers would be eradicated in the cull areas," it said in a draft ruling.
"On that basis, we concluded the claim was likely to mislead."
The ASA concluded: "The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told the RSPCA not to use language that implied the whole badger population in the cull areas would be culled in future advertising."
An RSPCA spokesman said: "The ASA has not made a judgement so we are unable to comment yet.