This week’s BBC 1 programme, ‘Meat: A Threat to our Planet’ gave an unbalanced and inaccurate view of the environmental challenges facing livestock production, potentially misleading UK consumers about how their meat is produced. By concentrating on the issue at a global scale, it failed to show the positives which sustainable production in the UK offers over the systems featured.
It also failed to note that, in 2018, UK beef imports from Brazil made up just one per cent of our beef imports, so the majority of what consumers here purchase does not come from the farming systems featured which deplete the rainforests.
The programme focused heavily on intensive farming practices in the US and South America. Little or no time was given to the other side of the debate and the significant efforts of UK agriculture to reduce our environmental impact. The UK industry did not have a voice in the programme, despite being produced and aired on a terrestrial station to a UK audience.
This was an inexcusable missed opportunity to present a solution to those who want to continue to enjoy meat but have become concerned about environmental impact, often on the basis of unbalanced reporting such as this. The UK is completely different to the farming systems shown on the programme, using natural resources to produce meat as sustainably as possible, with a focus on animal welfare. The industry has taken huge strides to reduce its carbon footprint and further increase nutrient density in the soil.
In addition, we do not agree with the claim that meat production has a greater environmental impact than transport. The highest volume of CO2 is produced by the fossil fuel industries, with livestock farming contributing just 4% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Given this statistic, cutting your individual meat consumption would in fact not reduce the UK’s overall CO2 emissions nearly as significantly as structural changes in the energy and transport sectors.
It is fair to say the red meat industry has been used as a scapegoat in discussions around carbon emissions, most likely because reducing red meat intake can be easily portrayed as a ‘simple’ lifestyle change. Suggesting that people should reduce the amount of red meat they consume is not the answer to improving the UK’s environmental impact and reducing carbon emissions.
Responsible and strategic livestock farming is a highly productive industry which produces a large amount of food for the population. When carried out effectively, carbon emissions can be minimised, with meat production playing an important role in global food security.
To redress the balance and to uphold its mission to provide impartial programming in the public interest, the BBC has an obligation both to remedy the misleading impression created by this programme and to give the UK livestock industry a voice in similar programming in the future. Highlighting that consumers should purchase meat which has been produced through a domestic assurance scheme ensures it adheres to higher welfare standards and traceable environmental credentials and gives them confidence they can continue to enjoy meat in their diet.
Alan Clarke, Chief Executive of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS)
Jane King, Chief Executive of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)
Gwyn Howells, Chief Executive of Hybu Cig Cymru / Meat Promotion Wales (HCC)