AHDB submits a complaint to Ofcom about Channel 4’s Big British Beef Battle

Tuesday, 5 December 2023

We have complained about Channel 4’s 'Big British Beef Battle' for failing to observe due impartiality and due accuracy, as well as fairness under Ofcom's fairness rule 7.9.

For anyone who has seen Channel 4’s ‘The Big British Beef Battle’, it is very difficult not to argue that it was misleading to British consumers and included a number of factual inaccuracies.

It demonstrated a key issue for AHDB, that the narrative around livestock agriculture and its impact on the environment needs addressing, and that is why we have raised our concerns with Ofcom. Below, we share the complaint that we submitted.

Summary: Failure to observe due impartially, due accuracy and fairness within the topic of the contribution of UK beef production to global warming, and in presenting the arguments for and against the reasonable answering of the programmes key question.

The programme was described on the Channel 4 website as a documentary that looks at the “impact of our diet on climate change”, which aims to answer the question, “does eating chicken instead of beef reduce our impact on the climate?” Which, under due impartially, viewers would expect exploration of the science around this topic, highlighting the arguments for and against the posed question.

Instead, the programme was incredibly biased against beef, highlighting basic, and very limited scientific evidence and arguments within this complex field of science. With the presenter’s opinions against beef very apparent and forthright, and undue focus on the global situation for a UK audience.

Had the programmes researchers looked up this topic, they would have very quickly discovered that the evidence is far from simple, with conclusions about the climate impact of beef far from clear cut. Below outlines a few examples of what the programme should have covered to uphold due impartiality.

  • Applying greenhouse gas emissions to different measures of food/nutrition alters the data, revealing the difficulty in assessing the climate impact of foods when they play very different roles in our diets. Several studies demonstrate that applying emissions by weight of product, macronutrients and micronutrients alters the climate impact of foods. The latter highlights that ultra-processed foods, energy drinks and sweets have the ‘lowest’ climate impact yet is unsuitable as a healthy balanced diet.
  • Soya demands (page 11) in the UK are driven by the poultry sector, 43% vs 12% for beef. Soya plantations are responsible for 18% of global deforestation (the greatest contributor for UK consumers)
  • UK beef cattle feed is 90% grass/forage (AHDB), meaning they can convert food we can’t eat into food we can, making 60% of the UK’s farmland productive. Whereas poultry eat high quality feed, making them in direct competition with humans
  • New evidence, acknowledged by the UN’s FAO (page 203) and the IPCCC (page 517) shows that when using a more accurate method to calculate the warming impact of methane (GWP*), the results are vastly different to current data. AHDB’s recent analysis shows that methane from UK cows is not causing additional climate warming.

Furthermore, the programme gives great focus to global emissions, despite UK-specific emissions being readily available, showing that UK beef has a carbon footprint that’s half the global average. This raises due accuracy concerns for AHDB, as the figures quoted are inflationary and irrelevant seeing as in 2022 the UK was 82% self-sufficient in beef, with almost 70% of imports coming from Ireland.

The programme includes a beef farmer as way of offering an alternative point, the programmes producers made no attempt to contact AHDB or any other agricultural organisation. Failing to provide the opportunity for the UK beef industry to contribute to such a damning programme and adhering to rule 7.9.

AHDB is an evidence-based public body sponsored by Defra. Our evidence, data, insight and analysis is relied on by the Government, researchers and farmers alike for the benefit of a sustainable agriculture industry. This resource and support extends to the media, of which we regularly liaise and advise to ensure balanced and accurate reporting. The programmes producers failed to do so as required by Ofcom rules.

Lastly, much of the above misconduct also occurred in the BBC programme 'Meat: A threat to our planet' in 2019, of which Ofcom ruled was in breach of due impartiality. AHDB hopes this provides a precedent on this occasion.

Read our blog on this subject