Farmers have called on one another to retaliate against the mainstream media’s anti-meat agenda following distorted reports that plant-based diets would ‘help fight climate change’.
Livestock farmers told Farmers Guardian that the sector should be more proactive in promoting British farmers’ positive contribution to the environment and said that although farm unions had a big role to play, ‘so do we as individuals’.
Leicestershire arable and beef farmer Joe Stanley said: “When it comes to the partial, inaccurate, lazy, wilfully distorted mainstream reporting, it is essential that it is called out as publicly as possible at every juncture – over social media, via complaints channels, and importantly to MPs and other representatives.
“We have to push back vocally in that way as individuals as well as via membership organisations.”
It came as a new UN report on climate change and land use, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said cutting food waste and moving towards healthy diets – which include animal products from ‘sustainable and low emission systems’ – were possible ways to combat rising temperatures.
NFU president Minette Batters said it was frustrating to see media outlets inflating the report, despite it having recognised ‘the important role animal products play in a balanced diet, and when produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emissions systems […] are actually part of the solution to climate change’.
NFU livestock board chairman Richard Findlay agreed the media had over-looked the report’s recommendation of a varied diet and should have instead focused on the UK picture.
“The big issue is they are still reporting on world figures because UK figures are a great news story,” he said. “They have not even cherry-picked the bits to bash farming, they have pretty much made it up.”
Mr Findlay said the NFU was undergoing discussions with the meat industry in terms of how to address the challenges going forward, but reiterated that the latest Kantar Worldpanel figures showed ‘the bashing has had little impact on sales’.
He said: “The general public by and large are not buying much of what is said in the press. But the imbalance is really annoying me and a lot of our members. I wonder at what point Ofcom will step in.
“The IPCC report was a very balanced report and we cannot argue with a lot of it. It stands UK agriculture in a fantastic position and instead of having the absolute pasting we have had in the last few days, we should have been held up as a leading light.”
Cumbria livestock farmer Will Case agreed the industry had to keep on ‘chipping away at it’.
He said: “We create 10 per cent of the emissions and get 90 per cent of the media coverage. Farmers need to be prepared to have that debate and present the facts in their day-to-day conversations.”
It came as producers hit out at a University of London decision to ban the sale of beef burgers at its Goldsmiths college as part of a major drive to ‘become carbon neutral by 2025’.
Mrs Batters questioned why the focus was not instead on ‘the more serious challenges like our clothing, technology, cars, holidays [and] food waste’.
She tweeted a number of national media outlets, including the BBC, Guardian, and Channel 4 News, asking: “Can you all sleep at night? I represent 50,000 NFU farmers, many of which are feeling isolated and terrorised and all because of your deeply flawed approach to tackling climate change.”