Farmers have hit back at ‘sensationalist’ and ’alarmist’ reporting which they say singles out agriculture for deforestation and climate change.
It comes ahead of the BBC’s Meat: a threat to our planet? documentary due to be aired on BBC One on Monday evening, in which presenter Liz Bonnin emotionally tells viewers how Brazil’s rainforests were being cleared to farm beef, with waterways being poisoned with farm slurry.
Referring to the controversial EAT-Lancet report which encourages people to cut red meat consumption and instead rely on eating more white meat and plant-based proteins - the majority of which have to be imported - in order to fight climate change, the reporter compares the methane emissions of a cow to burning petrol.
She told What’s On TV magazine: “In the last 50 years the global cattle population has increased by 400 million, the number of pigs has doubled and the number of chickens has increased five-fold, and all to keep up with our meat-eating demands.
“This is having a devastating effect on our ecosystems as more and more land is being used for meat production, intensive farming is polluting our rivers with animal waste and the ever increasing number of livestock is contributing to global warming.”
The NFU said it would complain to the BBC ‘in the strongest terms’ if the programme displays impartiality, bias against or misinformation about British farming.
Writing in a blog post for FG, union vice-president Stuart Roberts said: “The title of the programme is clearly alarmist and, we believe, misleading in its own right.”
He said it was the latest in a long line of attacks from the BBC and other national news providers which singled out red meat production as a leading cause of climate change.
“It has been frustrating to see the continued media portrayal of red meat production as the same throughout the world – especially when the truth is that British red meat is some of the most sustainable in the world, produced by farmers who care – with a greenhouse gas footprint 2.5 times lower than the global average,” he added.
Farmers in Brazil have also hit out at the BBC.
Chris Ward, who has farmed in the Mato Grosso for more than 32 years, said the agricultural blame game was not helpful.
“We need intelligent solutions, not sensationalist reporting on such a complex issue,” said Mr Ward, now a farm consultant who travels all over the world.
“Just like all programmes of this type it is loaded against agriculture.
“Not so long ago in the US, water contamination in the lower Mississippi was blamed on farmers, but after a study it was shown most of the nitrate contamination comes from city sewers that are put into the river after treatment.
“Similarly, blaming the meat production in the greater Amazon for global warming is looking for a scapegoat.”
Mr Ward said Brazil’s farmers were governed by strict environmental guidelines, with many going over and above what was required by law to set aside land as ecological focus areas.
“The preserved part of the Brazilian Amazon region is greater than 27 EU countries,” he added, with 20 per cent set aside in the south of the country, 35 per cent in the mid west and 80 per cent in the vicinity of the Amazon or rainforest areas.
“Conservation in Brazil is still above 63 per cent of Brazil’s land area.”
Ian Hill, former chief executive of Agropecuaria Jacarezinho, a 46,000 ha (114,000 ac) beef enterprise running 10,000 breeding cows in the north east state of Bahia, said: “Nobody shows or explains how Brazil has a totally regenerative formula for agriculture, with farmers making the best use of technology to reduce inputs and their impact on the environment.”
He used the example of precise direct planting technology, which in turn meant growers required much less fossil fuel. There was also huge amounts of work going on to improve soil health and fertility.
“Perhaps the pressure is positive in some respects,” added Mr Hill.
“With pressure our sector will evolve every day becoming more efficient and regenerative. I doubt that farmers are going to disappear.”