Strong industry reaction to BBC documentary Meat: A Threat to our Planet

Strong industry reaction to BBC documentary Meat: A Threat to our Planet

The BBC’s heavily trailed documentary, Meat: A Threat to our Planet has provoked strong reaction from industry and individuals and many took to social media, throughout the programme to vent their views.

About 95% of the programme was focused on filming massive scale, intensive and ‘factory farming’ production in the US and Brazil – which bears little relation to the vast majority of the production systems in the UK and in much of Europe.

“There was a massive missed opportunity to present a solution to people who want to continue to enjoy meat but are concerned about the environment.”

Meat Management editor Pam Brook said: “We know the making of this programme began back in March of this year and that the producers did approach some in the industry but, surprise, surprise, they chose not to use any of the information, materials and viewpoints given to them.

“There was no attempt at context, or indicating that meat production was conducted in a sustainable, responsible manner elsewhere by the presenter, Liz Bonnin. Instead she appeared to demonise meat eating and presented a solution to the overuse of world resources to feed a growing population was to each MUCH less meat. A dreadful and cynical piece of journalism in my view.”

Industry reaction

HCC chairman Kevin Roberts said: “The BBC documentary failed to give a balanced picture, and misinformed its viewers about the environmental impact of their dietary choices.

“The programme focused on the worst examples of overseas production and failed to explore how most of the beef and lamb available in UK stores is farmed in low-intensity ways. Choosing sustainably-produced meat such as Welsh Beef and Welsh Lamb is part of the solution to climate change.”

Nick Allen of the BMPA said:Hopefully people will see this programme and think hard about where they buy and source their meat from. The UK is one of the most sustainable places in the world to produce red meat. Our climate and geography means very few additional inputs are required to convert naturally occurring grass into high quality protein.  The carbon footprint of UK beef is 35% lower than the global average and significantly lower than a number of the other key beef producing nations.

“Over 90% of the nutritional needs of British beef and sheep is met by grass or grass feed (silage); much of the rest is made up of crop bi-products or brewers’ grains (a bi-product of beer making), with minimal use of soya.

“With over 60% of our agricultural land in the UK unsuitable for planting crops, cattle and sheep are the only way it can remain in food production. Grazing areas also provide wildlife with habitats and food sources, aiding biodiversity.

“The UK is one of the most sustainable places in the world to produce red meat.”

“An important point to make is that carbon sequestration is not included in net greenhouse gas calculations for agriculture, but agriculture, particularly grazing livestock has a key part to play in maintaining and enhancing land that can and does sequester carbon.

“Grazing animals that turn naturally growing grass and waste products that are inedible to humans into one of the most nutrient dense foods available will play an integral part of the food growing industry. It will be places such as the UK, where it is much more sustainable to rear livestock, that beef and sheep production will be required and necessary.”

Patrick Holden, CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) stressed the importance of differentiating between the livestock systems and meats that are part of the problem, and those that are part of the solution.

“There is no doubt that grain fed, intensively farmed livestock, including those found in feed-lots in the USA, are hugely damaging to the environment and public health, and for this reason should be phased out entirely.

“…grazing ruminant animals (including cattle and sheep), have a critically important role to play in rebuilding our soil fertility and carbon stocks.”

“However, it is also true that sustainable agriculture represents one of the most significant opportunities to mitigate irreversible climate change, primarily through the regeneration of our soils. With this in mind, grazing ruminant animals (including cattle and sheep), have a critically important role to play in rebuilding our soil fertility and carbon stocks.”

Bill Jermey of the Food Training Council (ftc) said: “Backed by academic support of two scientists – yes, a whole TWO! Liz Bonnin presented a tearjerker of a documentary in favour of eating MUCH less meat.”

“Certainly it is impossible to argue that Brazil is devastating the rain forest to grow cattle and cattle feed to make money for the country.

“Certainly things could be better. There was very little about how much better livestock production is in this country and indeed a better way of using the land.

“Population growth is the problem, and if we do not solve it, then the planet will.”

AHDB’s Head of Environment, Jonathan Foot, said: “The programme highlighted the significant challenges to the environment presented by meat production in various parts of the world, though very little screen time was given to efforts to reduce this impact.

“There was a massive missed opportunity to present a solution to people who want to continue to enjoy meat but are concerned about the environment. That is that the UK is completely different to the farming systems shown, using natural resources to produce meat as sustainably as possible, with a focus on animal welfare. Many of the areas that are used in the UK to graze livestock are not well suited to the production of crops and so would become less economically productive.

“The programme also failed to highlight that meat provides a protein rich source of food that weight for weight can be produced in a smaller area of land than the equivalent plant-based diet.

“Home-produced beef and lamb is some of the most sustainably produced in the world, requiring very few additional inputs. Livestock grazing lands store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide vital habitats and food sources for some of our most treasured and at-risk wildlife species – they are also some of our most loved and iconic landscapes. It is part of the solution.

“By buying red meat locally and looking for the Red Tractor logo you can be sure you are enjoying quality, sustainably produced meat which makes best use of the UK’s resources.”

NFU vice president, Stuart Roberts said: “I agree wholeheartedly with Liz Bonnin that we need sustainable food systems. Must make sure that doesn’t translate to plant (good) meat (bad). It’s a whole lot more complex.”

Publisher of Meat Management magazine Graham Yandell stated: “Predictably the programme was focused mainly on filming massive scale, intensive production in the US and Brazil – which bears no relation to the production systems in the UK and actually the position in much of Europe

“I am also not surprised that Liz Bonnin conducted most of her interviews with campaign groups, and apart from the contribution from a smallholder in Wales, there was no representation from our side of the industry over here. The question is why? The simple answer is bias and ignorance from both her and the BBC.  A look at her website says it all and there can be no surprise about the complete lack of balance.

“She had a sneering, scowling look on her face for most of the programme and added in a few tears on board the plane for a bit more dramatic effect. The steps being taken to produce meat more sustainably were given a couple of minutes at the end, but a deliberate impression that ‘Big Meat’ doesn’t give a hoot about anything was always the intention. Following so soon after the appalling documentary about BSE, the BBC should be ashamed of itself. But its growing anti- meat bias on all its media platforms is well established and is likely to continue.”

SAMW executive manager, Martin Morgan said: “It comes as no surprise that in the run up to the festive period we are treated to yet another programme from the BBC pillaring the farming industry, without doing their job properly and researching the true facts as to how livestock are farmed in the British Isles. What happens on the other side of the world is not comparable to the sustainable production methods that have been deployed by generations of UK farmers.

“It was a narrow and grossly incomplete presentation of red meat production and was totally lacking in balance.”

“Predictably, the programme failed to address the vast differences between the feed lots of the USA and the extensive grass-based production of beef and lamb on which the supreme quality of Scotch beef and lamb is founded.  It was a narrow and grossly incomplete presentation of red meat production and was totally lacking in balance.

“Thankfully, the loyal customers of the Scotch brand are better informed than the BBC and will continue to approach their sourcing of red meat from climate-aware and sustainable production systems.”

Kate Rowell, Chair of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), said: “When it comes to sustainability, the Scottish red meat industry is in stark contrast to intensive production methods which are used in other countries.

“We have an abundant, natural fresh water supply and produce quality beef and lamb from the grass and rough grazing which make up around 80 percent of Scotland’s agricultural land which is not suitable for cereal, fruit or vegetable production. Scotland’s grassland also acts as a carbon sink and grazing animals provide habitats for wildlife and help to maintain the landscape.

“When consumers see the Scotch Beef PGI, Scotch Lamb PGI and Specially Selected Pork brands in their supermarket or butcher’s shop they can be assured that the meat they are buying has come from quality assured, sustainable Scottish farms where animal welfare and high production standards are a priority.”

Tony Goodger, a consultant at AIMS said: “The BBC’s charter requires that it should Inform, Educate and Entertain. I would have thought that these principals would also require that it offer balance. But balance was sadly lacking for what was a prime time audience based in the United Kingdom. Put simply when it comes to beef and pork we consume in the main domestically or EU produced livestock and with the exception of a visit to a small holding in Wales these production systems were ignored.

“The view from my armchair was that the BBC either didn’t know or didn’t care that the likely majority of their audience will buy their meat and poultry from the UK’s multiple retailers and those businesses in the main support highly sustainable production systems from farms in the United Kingdom and British Isles.

“Surely the BBC had a duty to devote a sizable amount of 1 hour air time to UK farming that produces UK meat. Rather than, as I believe, trying to encourage consumers to alter their eating habits by moving away from a balanced diet to a fad diet.

“In short, “Meat: a Threat to Our Planet?” perhaps should have been retitled to “Meet a threat to our planet, BBC biased documentaries”

The four UK farming union presidents, NFU’s Minette Batters, NFU Cymru’s John Davies, NFU Scotland’s Andrew McCornick and UFU’s Ivor Ferguson issued a joint statement: “At no point did the documentary explain the vast differences between American meat production and UK production. This was a massive oversight considering the BBC’s audience and would have left people with the impression that all meat is produced in the same way.

“We know the public want to eat sustainably and they can do this by investing in the UK livestock sector, which is already producing some of the most climate-friendly beef and lamb in the world and has an ambition to do even more. Beef production in the UK is already 2.5 times more efficient than the global average and 4 times more efficient than places which are deforesting land.

“Simply showing the environmental impact of beef production in North and South America does nothing to help people make informed choices about food which can be grown and reared in ways that offer benefits for the environment. For example, with the UK’s climate, landscape and grass-based systems we have the means, and the ambition, to provide quality, nutritious meat in ways that not only protect the environment, but help mitigate the world’s impact on the climate.

“The documentary did, however, demonstrate the concerns UK farming has about future trade, and what we could expect to see on our supermarket shelves if the government were to allow food into the country which has been produced in ways that would be illegal here.

“If we are to maintain our values of environmental protection and animal welfare which are at the core of UK farming, and we know the public want to uphold, future trade deals must ensure all imports meet the standard required of UK farmers.”


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