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BBC admits meat documentary breached impartiality guidelines

A controversial BBC programme which blamed livestock production for climate change has been pulled off iPlayer after the broadcaster admitted it breached impartiality guidelines.

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Presenter Liz Bonnin on Meat: A Threat To Our Planet? which was deemed to have breached editorial guidelines
Presenter Liz Bonnin on Meat: A Threat To Our Planet? which was deemed to have breached editorial guidelines

The NFU issued a complaint to the BBC over inaccuracy and bias in its hour-long documentary ‘Meat: A Threat To Our Planet?’ which aired on November 25, 2019.

 

NFU director of communications Fran Barnes, who escalated the complaint to Ofcom when the BBC failed to act, said: “It was clear when the programme was broadcast that it fell short of the BBC’s guidelines concerning impartiality. We believed at the time that the programme was created to push a specific viewpoint.

 

“It has also been incredibly frustrating that it has taken 10 months for the BBC to acknowledge this and to apologise, and that we have had to escalate this complaint to Ofcom in the absence of a timely response from the BBC.

 

Apology

 

“While we acknowledge the apology, we would like the BBC to go further and commit to redressing the balance in future programming to ensure this does not happen again.

 

“All farmers want is fair coverage of food and farming and an end to the demonisation of some sectors of productive agriculture, particularly livestock.”

 

The union’s president Minette Batters said the result provided ‘true vindication’ on the points made about lack of impartiality.

 

“British farmers are rightly proud of the work they do to rear quality livestock and care for the environment, and they were angry and hurt by the false impression of UK livestock farming the programme created for the viewer at home," she said.

 

Climate-friendly

 

“In Britain we have some of the most climate-friendly systems of food production in the world. Emissions from UK beef production are already half that of the global average and our farmers are working to become net zero by 2040.

 

“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.”


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While the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) upheld the complaint about impartiality, it did not find the programme’s content was inaccurate.

 

The NFU complained that the programme suggested global livestock produced more greenhouse gases than transport and this was inaccurate in relation to the UK.

 

But ECU bosses said claims made about livestock’s contribution were accurate as they relied on the 2013 paper by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, which attributed 14.5 per cent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and the 2014 estimate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that direct emissions from transport accounted for 14 per cent.

 

The judgement read: “The ECU therefore did not agree that the programme conveyed an exaggerated impression. And, as the impression was clearly presented as relating to the global picture, the ECU considered any disparity with the UK picture to be immaterial.”

Farmers gave a mixed reaction to the ruling, with some saying the BBC had become ’untrustworthy’ due to its bias and others called on the broadcaster to ’show balance’ by producing a pro-meat documentary.

 

Eddie Andrew of Sheffield based dairy Our Cow Molly said programmes like this damaged consumer confidence and trust in red meat.

 

Renowned climate scientist Frank Mitloehner tweeted: "I am glad that the BBC has looked into accuracy and impartiality of this piece. I disagree with their conclusion regarding the former. The livestock vs transport comparison has been debunked a long time ago."

 

* Hear more from Prof Mitloehner on Epsiode 24 of FG’s Over The Farm Gate podcast, produced in association with the CLA

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