A BBC documentary entitled ‘Meat: A Threat To Our Planet’ was aired on BBC One at the end of November. However, the main agriculture levy bodies in the UK have hit back at the broadcaster, claiming the programme didn’t portray a balanced picture of livestock production.
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and Hybu Cig Cymru/Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) have penned an open letter defending livestock farming practices in the UK.
In their letter, the organisations claimed that the broadcaster shared information on the meat production industry around the world, “potentially misleading UK consumers about how their meat is produced”.
The chief executives of the AHDB, QMS and HCC stated: “By concentrating on the issue at a global scale, it failed to show the positives which sustainable production in the UK offers over the systems featured.”
In particular, they took issue with the heavy focus on the intensive farming practices used in the US and South America, pointing out that this is different to how the livestock farming sector in the UK works. They added that there was little to no time given to show “the significant efforts of UK agriculture to reduce our environmental impact”.
They stressed that the UK uses “completely different” practices to those portrayed in the documentary. In this country, they said that farmers are “using natural resources to produce meat as sustainably as possible, with a focus on animal welfare”.
While the livestock farming industry is often blamed for creating high emissions, the AHDB, QMS and HCC pointed out that there are other sectors that produce far higher emissions.
They revealed that livestock farming accounts for just four per cent of the country’s CO2 emissions. The chief executives of the organisations added: “Given this statistic, cutting your individual meat consumption would in fact not reduce the UK’s overall CO2 emissions nearly as significantly as structural changes in the energy and transport sectors.”
Livestock farming, and in particular red meat, has become a scapegoat in the debate around climate change, they argued, stressing that reducing consumption of red meat, or cutting it out of your diet completely, isn’t the solution.
“When carried out effectively, carbon emissions can be minimised, with meat production playing an important role in global food security,” they commented.
It’s not only the AHDB, QMS and HCC who were unhappy about the BBC’s portrayal of the livestock farming industry in the documentary.
The National Beef Association (NBA) also took issue with the documentary, noting that it didn’t make the point that British farming practices are different to, and more sustainable than, those elsewhere in the world which is why it’s more important than ever to buy British meat.
According to the NBA, failing to properly highlight the differences in meat production practices between the UK and other places like South America and the USA could result in a “potentially damaging public perception of all red meat”.
In a letter to the BBC, the NBA expressed disappointment that the broadcaster hadn’t taken the opportunity to encourage people to buy British meat, and to show how much more sustainable the UK’s livestock farming is than that overseas.
They have requested that the organisation produces a follow-up programme about British livestock farming methods and clearly highlighting how the systems used here differ from those portrayed in the original documentary.
Chris Mallon, NBA national director, also pointed out that beef farming has a number of environmental benefits, of which providing a source of high-quality protein is just one.
“Grazing livestock also acts as a fertilizer for soils, which leads to higher levels of carbon sequestration, so actually acts as a carbon sink, something that is rarely remembered,” he asserted.
The NBA also pointed out that the carbon footprint of beef production in the UK is 35 per cent lower than the global average.
As a result, they want to encourage people to buy British beef as part of a healthy and balanced diet and for those who choose to eat red meat not to be made to feel guilty for doing so.
Farmers could also benefit from highlighting the quality of their meat to consumers, as well as explaining more about their farming methods to show that they can help fight climate change and that buying local, sustainably produced food is an important part of that.
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