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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

One man's meat is another's poison

Will $50,000 vegetarian ad campaign stop people from eating meat?
The Sunday Times - March 30, 2014
By: Benson Ang
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One man's meat is another's poison The posters encouraging people to reconsider their meat eating practice are put up at City Hall MRT station. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Train commuters at City Hall MRT station are being greeted by posters encouraging them to question their meat-eating habit.

The Vegetarian Society (Singapore), a 15-year-old local charity devoted to reducing meat consumption, has spent almost $50,000 to run the two-week poster campaign that started on Thursday. The advertisements are placed only at the interchange station because of the high human traffic volume.

Each poster shows two animals, a house pet and another that is commonly eaten. Above the pairings - puppy and calf, kitten and chick, and puppy and piglet - is the poser: Why love one but eat the other?

The posters have prompted commuters to ponder other questions: Are they appropriate? And how effective are they?

Most commuters and communication experts SundayLife! spoke to have no issues with the campaign, but they doubt it will change consumption habits.

Mr Edwin Yeo, 46, general manager of public relations consultancy firm SPRG Singapore, said: "So long as what the groups are promoting doesn't disrupt harmony or security, there's no reason they shouldn't be allowed to use ads to promote their cause."

Of this campaign, he said: "A small percentage will respond to the cute pictures. But to the masses, the ad will probably make a commuter feel a tinge of guilt for only about five seconds.

"If the movie Babe didn't stop people from eating meat, neither will this poster campaign." Babe is the 1995 box-office hit about a pig which wants to be a sheepdog.

Of the 15 commuters approached, only two expressed strong objections to the posters.

Technical officer Habib Hassan, 63, said: "Vegetarians are only a small group in Singapore. They shouldn't be allowed to use public space to promote their cause.

"This advertisement is clearly biased and makes people feel guilty. I should be able to eat whatever I want."

Agreeing, Mr Jerry Wong, 53, a project manager, said: "One's eating habits are personal, so the message is not suitable as a public advertisement."

He suggested that the society spread its message through friends and personal contacts instead.

However, most people do not object to special interest groups pushing their message in public places, as long as these are not about sex, race or religion.

Housewife Christina Chye, 56, said: "I actually find this type of advertisments more interesting and refreshing than the regular ones that plug products."

According to SMRT's advertising guidelines, companies can advertise on its buses, taxis and trains, as well as on lightboxes and mobile platforms at its train stations.

But SMRT can refuse to accept, discontinue or remove any advertisment that is "objectionable, inappropriate, likely to cause offence" or "unsuitable for any reason".

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has a code of practice for advertisements that MRT and LRT operators must comply with.

A spokesman for LTA said that in general, advertising content that can cause discomfort, such as graphics depicting violence or are provocative, are not allowed.

This is not the first time a special interest group has taken out a public advertisement.

Last December, the Association of Women for Action and Research put up an advertisement at a bus stop in Orchard Road promoting its Sexual Assault Befrienders Service which supports victims and survivors of sexual assault.

Two years ago, conservation group Shark Savers Singapore launched its "I'm FINished with fins" campaign through billboard advertisments at bus stops aimed at discouraging the consumption of shark's fin.

Only two of the 15 commuters that SundayLife! spoke to said they might change their diet after seeing the poster.

Quantity surveyor Steve Leu, 59, said: "The poster is impactful and makes me think twice about the amount of meat I'm eating. After all, the animals we kill for meat also used to be cute."

Such reactions are what the Vegetarian Society (Singapore) is hoping for.

Its president, Mr Clarence Tan, 48, said: "As long as the posters make people stop and think about their eating practices, I think they would have succeeded.

"I would rather offend a few people than have billions of animals tortured every year."

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