BLOG: High time the BBC introduced the same investigative 'Reality Check' for its own programmes

Meat: A Threat to our Planet, NFU Cymru response_70902

Following the highly misleading documentary by the BBC, Meat: A Threat to our Planet, NFU Cymru President, John Davies, explains why it has caused so much anger and upset within the Welsh and British farming community. He writes...

I am sure you are all as annoyed as I am at the airing of the BBC documentary Meat: A Threat to our Planet - an hour long programme that aimed, but spectacularly failed, to accurately explain to the British public the environmental impact of eating meat.

Given the anger and upset among the farming community caused by this damaging documentary, I think it’s high time the BBC introduced the same investigative ‘Reality Check’ for its own commissioned programmes as it does for statements made by others who hold positions of responsibility and influence in public life.

The broadcast focussed almost entirely on American production systems that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the farming systems we have here in Wales and across the rest of the UK, leaving the audience with the misleading impression that all meat is produced this way.

The reality of food production here in Wales is very different to the American systems shown in the BBC programme; Welsh and British farmers produce some of the most climate friendly meat in the world and have an ambition to reach net zero agricultural emissions by 2040.

The distinct lack of context in the broadcast meant viewers were not notified that UK beef production systems are 2.5 times more efficient than the global average. Nor were viewers informed that the vast majority of UK beef is produced using grass-based diets, with over 85% of the water used to produce a kilogram of beef coming from rainfall. The programme also failed to convey that 80% of land in Wales is best suited to growing grass; we could not grow other crops on this land. Our livestock are grazing pastures that are valuable habitats for our native wildlife species, protecting soils in Wales that store over 400 million tonnes of carbon and turning inedible grass into high quality nutrient rich beef and lamb, one of the best sources of iron, zinc and Vitamin B.   

I am mystified that the BBC would devote the vast majority of its broadcast to showcasing a model and standards that British farmers do not identify with when, in fact, we have such a fantastic, clean, green story to tell here in Wales. In fact, the systems of production portrayed on the BBC merely highlight the very reason why we continue to ask government not to enter into trade deals that would allow food to enter this country that has been produced to standards that would be considered illegal here in the UK.

At NFU Cymru we feel that, not for the first time, our national broadcaster has failed in its duty to bring context to the climate change debate. Once again the BBC has simplified its narrative to infer that reducing meat consumption is the answer to climate change. The fact of the matter is that the UK farming industry is responsible for just 10% of all UK emissions. As a sector we take this seriously and our net zero aspirations show our ambition to play our part in tackling the climate change challenge. However, scapegoating the UK farming industry will not provide the answers to a conundrum that society, as a whole, will need to tackle together.

It is for all of these reasons that we have been left with no choice but to lodge an official complaint with the BBC on the grounds that this report lacked context and misled its audience. We are encouraging anyone who objected to the skewed view of farming in the Meat: A Threat to our Planet documentary to make an official complaint to the BBC. Details of how to do this can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/complaints.

The important message consumers should be getting is they can purchase Welsh produce safe in the knowledge that they are buying a safe, quality and affordable product that has been produced to the highest animal welfare and sustainability standards. We thank consumers for their continued support of Welsh agriculture.

NFU Cymru's letter of complaint to the BBC:


Dear Sir/Madam


I am writing to complain about the unbalanced and misleading portrayal of farming in the BBC documentary Meat: A Threat to our Planet? aired on Monday 25th November – a programme that aimed, but spectacularly failed, to accurately explain to the British public the environmental impact of eating meat.


This broadcast focussed almost entirely on North and South American production systems that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the farming systems we have here in Wales and across the rest of the UK. The programme made little effort to make a clear and important distinction that food production here in the UK is very different to the American systems shown in the BBC programme, leaving the audience with the misleading impression that all meat is produced in this way.


Considering that this programme was being produced for a UK audience, I have to question the decision and motive to place so much emphasis on examining production models and standards in America when the fantastic clean, green systems used by Welsh and British farmers that produce UK consumers’ food would surely have been more relevant to those viewing the programme.


The programme could have been used as an opportunity to highlight that, in fact, Welsh and British farmers produce some of the most climate friendly meat in the world and have an ambition to reach net zero agricultural emissions by 2040. This was an opportunity to show that UK farmers are at the forefront of trying to provide solutions to a conundrum that society, as a whole, will need to tackle together. Instead, however, this was an ill-thought-out, hour-long attack which could well mislead consumers into thinking that reducing their consumption of red meat would solve the climate change issue.


The distinct lack of context in the broadcast meant viewers were not notified that UK beef production systems are 2.5 times more efficient than the global average. Nor were viewers informed that the vast majority of UK beef is produced using grass-based diets, with over 85% of the water used to produce a kilogram of beef coming from rainfall. The programme also failed to convey that 80% of land in Wales is best suited to growing grass; we could not grow other crops on this land. Our livestock are grazing pastures that are valuable habitats for our native wildlife species, protecting soils in Wales that store over 400 million tonnes of carbon and turning inedible grass into high quality nutrient rich beef and lamb, one of the best sources of iron, zinc and Vitamin B.   


During these uncertain times I would like to place on the record my thanks to the BBC, and in particular BBC Wales and their excellent team, for the general coverage it has afforded the farming industry. I commend the recent BBC Focus on Farming week that showed what can be achieved when comprehensive farming-related issues are covered sensitively and sensibly in great detail. Taking this into account, it remains extremely frustrating, however, that much of the BBC’s reporting on climate change is not handled with the balance and objectivity that is required. At NFU Cymru we feel that, not for the first time, our national broadcaster has failed in its duty to bring context to the climate change debate. Once again the BBC has simplified its narrative to infer that reducing meat consumption is the answer to climate change.


The timing of the broadcast coincided with the Royal Welsh Winter Fair, an event that is world-renowned as a showcase of everything that is great about the Welsh livestock industry. Droves of visibly upset farmers and members of the public came to speak to me at the event to voice their anger and frustration at the documentary - this complaint represents the views of many thousands of both farming and rural businesses in Wales who are rightly dismayed at the way this complex and delicate topic has been misrepresented.


The fact of the matter is that the UK farming industry is responsible for just 10% of all UK emissions, but we respect we still have a role to play and our net zero aspirations show our ambition to play our part in tackling the climate change challenge. Given the context and the good intentions of the industry, why is the BBC so persistent on pointing the finger of blame at the UK farming industry when other industries, whose emissions make up a far greater proportion of the remaining 90% of UK emissions, do not appear to be subject to the same level of scrutiny from the BBC’s reporting?


It is clear that, in its political reporting, for example, the BBC is championing its ‘Reality Check’ as a bastion of the truth. I would suggest it is now high time that the BBC introduced the same investigative principles into the commissioning of its own programmes as it does for statements made by others who hold positions of responsibility and influence in public life.


Yours sincerely

John Davies

President/Llywydd

NFU Cymru

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Last edited: 16:06 on November 27, 2019

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