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HomeIndiaGovernanceEat chicken, it’s healthy, says Sania Mirza. But the endorsement gets fried

Eat chicken, it’s healthy, says Sania Mirza. But the endorsement gets fried

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The Advertising Standards Council of India has sought the withdrawal or modification of the advertorial. But the poultry group is unwilling.

New Delhi: Terming a poultry advertorial featuring tennis star Sania Mirza as being “misleading”, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has sought its withdrawal or modification by next week.

On 28 February 2018, a front-page advertorial by a group called the All India Poultry Development and Service was published in the Times of India, claiming that foreign-funded NGOs in India were spreading “misleading information” that there was widespread use of antibiotics on farmed chickens in the country.

“Vested interests from Western countries through so called NGO foundations appear to be trying to spread false and misleading information alleging indiscriminate usage of antibiotics,” the advertorial featuring the popular tennis player said.

The ASCI has dismissed the claim as being “unsubstantiated” and “misleading by exaggeration,” and has advised the advertiser to either withdraw or modify the advertorial, which sought to encourage people to eat more chicken, by 23 May 2018.

The All India Poultry Development and Service, however, said it will not withdraw or modify the advertorial, saying all allegations against it are false. “We have followed all necessary norms and standards and will not withdraw the advertisement,” the group’s legal counsel Ashok Kumar said.

Ad days after ‘damning’ study

The advertorial came just days after reports of a study that found that chickens raised in India for food are dosed with some of the strongest antibiotics — meant to be only used in the most extreme cases of sickness — and are routinely used to promote unnatural growth of healthy animals. The contents of the report were featured across publications, including in The Guardian.

“This advertorial was the mother of fake news,” said animal welfare activist Jayasimha Nuggehalli, who had filed the complaint against the advertiser. “Industries routinely use faces of celebrities to spread misinformation about their products (in this case, chickens),” he added.

Earlier, the Centre for Science and Environment, an environmental think tank based in the capital, had written to Mirza and urged the tennis star to disassociate herself from the “misleading” advertorial.

“You are an icon for the youth of India. Millions of young women and men aspire to emulate your success. They are influenced by your actions and messages. Having said this, we are deeply disappointed that you have associated yourself with a blatantly false and misleading advertorial,” the letter sent to her by Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, the CSE letter had said.

According to a study by the London-based non-profit organisation Bureau of Investigative Journalism, tonnes of colistin – also known as the “antibiotic of last resort” – is shipped to India for the routine treatment of chickens. The widespread use of antibiotics, the study had noted, is bound to have consequences throughout the world since it would build high levels of antibiotic resistance among chickens, which is bound to spread to human beings as well.

For Nuggehalli, however, the issue is not just about one advertorial since according to him, the “damage is already done” in this case.

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