It’s Veganuary, so it is hardly surprising that veganism is getting a higher media profile than normal. But this year it does seem to have stepped up a notch, with Channel 4 leading the way.
First it brought us Meat the Family, in which city families look after farm animals as pets for a few weeks, and then decide whether to eat them or save them.
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Executive editor, Farmers Weekly
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The first in the series triggered a social media storm, not least from farmers who complained that the programme was showing livestock production in foreign countries, rather than on British farms, which could give consumers a distorted impression.
Next on the menu was Channel 4’s Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed the Planet – another diatribe from environmentalist George Monbiot about the supposed perils of livestock production, built on exaggerated claims, distorted figures and false premises.
Farmers were fuming that the programme lacked balance, took things out of context and gave no credit for the massive efforts they are already making to reduce their impact on the environment.
New technology is fast emerging that will help to raise food output to feed a growing population in a more sustainable way. Yet Mr Monbiot ignored all this, instead advocating a future based on lab-grown meat and protein sludge.
And then we were treated to How to Steal Pigs and Influence People.
The backlash from farmers started before the programme had even aired – to the extent that Channel 4 sponsor Mitsubishi was forced to disassociate itself from the show.
But the programme still went ahead, showcasing the activities of so-called “vegan influencers” as they broke into pig farms, removed individual animals from their pens and posted footage on social media to supposedly highlight the alleged cruelty of livestock production.
The film makers were quick to dismiss any criticism, saying they were simply “shining a light on vegan activism in the UK”, rather than “glamorising, encouraging or condoning it in any way”.
And, in truth, it probably was the vegan activists who came out worst from the programme, with farmers and other vegans condemning their approach on social media as “attention-seeking, reckless and illegal”.
But there is no doubt that the footage will still have turned some people off meat and will likely encourage copycat incursions.
It’s easy to understand Channel 4’s enthusiasm for this series – there is no shortage of vegan food advertising to be had. The broadcaster also recently purchased a multi-million-pound stake in the Meatless Farm Company. But with this programme, it has overstepped the mark.
Rural crime is already at endemic levels and anything that either trivialises or glorifies it is fundamentally wrong. The programme was also one-sided – failing to offer any explanation as to why certain things are done the way they are on farms, or to put things in their proper context.
The biosecurity risk of breaking into pig farms was not addressed properly, nor were the health and welfare implications for the animals.
But most important of all is the human cost. Many farmers are already under severe financial pressure, and having to protect themselves against illegal intrusions, or pay to repair any damage, just adds to the burden.
The vegan onslaught means livestock farmers are already feeling victimised and undervalued. Some are living in genuine fear. Such programmes are not only irresponsible, they are dangerous.
Instead of showcasing these lunatics in action, Channel 4 should be condemning them and reporting them to the authorities, before any further damage is done.