by Countryside Alliance

After 10 months of an anti-meat documentary being aired by the BBC, the broadcaster has upheld a complaint by the NFU surrounding impartiality. 

The documentary Meat: A Threat to Our Planet?, first broadcast in November 2019 , aimed to raise awareness of the environmental issues associated with global food production.

Specifically, it looked at how the consumers can continue to eat red meat without harming the planet.

However, the programme focused exclusively on farming methods in the Americas, and not those followed by farmers in the UK.

Industry groups including the Countryside Alliance were quick to point out that not all red meat production was the same following its broadcast.

The documentary makers even cut a section in which the benefits of British grazing systems were explained. 

At the time, Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner said “Such omissions can only be described as irresponsible and are more than just unfortunate.

“The beef industry is already facing a difficult period and a programme which actively seeks to drive down demand for all beef production regardless of how it is produced will have a real impact on the lives of British farmers. Meanwhile, the BBC is failing viewers by not explaining the benefits of sourcing local grass reared meat with high welfare standards and a low carbon footprint.” 

After airing, the NFU lodged a formal complaint, but this was escalated to Ofcom when the BBC failed to provide a response in a timely manner. 

Ten months on, the broadcaster has upheld the complaint and scrapped the programme from its online iPlayer service.

Ofcom ruled that viewers only received ‘a partial analysis of the impact of livestock farming on the global environment and biodiversity, based almost exclusively on intensive farming methods’.

Ofcom added that ‘the relative environmental impact of non-intensive systems of livestock farming was an important consideration for viewers when assessing the environmental impact of meat production globally, and when considering what the invitation to reduce or eliminate meat consumption might mean in the UK context.’

NFU President Minette Batters said British farmers were 'angry and hurt' as the documentary gave out a 'false impression' of UK livestock farming.

She said emissions from UK beef production were already half that of the global average, and farmers were working to become net zero by 2040.

“Today’s result, while a long time coming, provides true vindication on the points we made about what we believed to be lack of impartiality in this programme.
 
“UK grass-based systems are incomparable with the intensive feedlot style systems shown on the programme, and it is fantastic to see that being recognised today.”

Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance added: “ This is an excellent result and I am pleased the NFU saw this complaint through to the very end. It was clear the so-called documentary had an agenda and it deliberately made no differentiation between the industrial farming systems in the US and Brazil, which it visited, and mainly grass-fed systems in Britain, which it did not. 

“It does however raise questions about just how long it has taken to get this action. Clearly, the BBC need to up their game when it comes to complaints. A 10 month wait is completely unacceptable. It is imperative that broadcasters like the BBC make the effort to speak to those working in UK farming going forward. ”
 

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