Greenpeace has been told to take down "provocative" billboards about synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled against a series of Greenpeace billboards reading: "Ravensdown and Ballance Pollute Rivers - #TooManyCows"
In its decision, the ASA accepts the scientific basis of the ads stating that the "increased use of fertiliser has played a part in the intensification of dairying in New Zealand, and there has been increased pollution as a result."
But the advertising body ruled against the billboards, stating that "targeting individual companies is provocative and taking advocacy a step further than is necessary."
Greenpeace campaigner Gen Toop has warned if the decision is upheld it could have a "chilling effect" on environmental and social advocacy.
"Civil society must be able to hold individual companies to account, especially when they are responsible for environmental destruction, like Ravensdown and Ballance," says Toop.
"It is very disturbing that the ASA has taken a position that companies which pollute the environment are above criticism. Free speech is a vital part of our democratic society."
"The public have a right to know the names of companies that are polluting our environment."
The billboards, which were installed on arterial routes around the country are the first tactic Greenpeace has rolled out in its new campaign to ban synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.
In a split decision the ASA ruled that the billboards were "misleading". Some of the reasons given include: "The font for the text "#TooManyCows" was much smaller and harder to read than the main message "Ravensdown and Balance Pollute Rivers", and, as a result, this additional text could easily be missed, thereby distorting the message. And that "the message is over-simplified and potentially unclear".
The ASA board was not unanimous in this decision. A minority of board members found that the three complaints made against the billboards should be dismissed.
"The science is simple - synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is fuelling industrial dairying and polluting our rivers. We have every right to call out the two companies, Ravensdown and Ballance, who are selling this destructive product," says Toop.
Greenpeace has lodged an appeal against the decision.