BBC pulls meat documentary from iPlayer after NFU complaint

The BBC has upheld a complaint from the NFU about the impartiality of its documentary Meat: A Threat to Our Planet? – and removed it from iPlayer.

Aired on BBC1 on 25 November last year, the programme set out to explore the assertion that consumers’ desire to eat meat is killing the planet.

It featured environmental TV presenter Liz Bonnin visiting factory farms in the US and South America, who was reduced to tears by what she witnessed in the meat trade. She said she had stopped eating red meat since filming the documentary. 

See also: Myth buster – the BBC’s anti-meat programme examined

But the NFU complained that the BBC documentary was biased in its treatment of livestock farming, as it failed to make clear distinctions between grass-fed regenerative beef farming in the UK and cattle ranching in the Amazon.

The union escalated its complaint to Ofcom when the BBC failed to provide a timely response.

The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) said viewers of the programme “received a partial analysis of the impact of livestock farming on the global environment and biodiversity, based almost exclusively on intensive farming methods and of limited application to the choices open to UK consumers”.

The ECU said this fell below the BBC’s standards of impartiality in relation to controversial subjects, having agreed that the subject-matter of the programme was controversial – given the ongoing public debate about the sustainability of meat production.

Responding to the judgement, a BBC spokesperson said: “We note the findings.”

NFU response

NFU president Minette Batters said the ruling “provides true vindication on the points we made about what we believed to be lack of impartiality in this programme”.

Mrs Batters added: “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.

“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.”

Incomparable systems

Mrs Batters said UK grass-based systems are incomparable with the intensive feedlot-style systems shown on the programme.

NFU director of communications Fran Barnes said: “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 doesn’t 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.”

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