Blog: Our work behind the scenes to challenge media misinformation

Friday, 12 November 2021

The gathering of world leaders at COP 26 in Glasgow highlights the need for fast progress in the fight against climate change. But with agriculture being a hot topic in the event’s media coverage, there is a real danger of the public being misinformed about its impact on the environment here in the UK. Our Head of Media & PR, Phil Maiden, talks about the hidden work AHDB does to protect the industry against reputational challenges.

Reports about the effect livestock production has on the environment can potentially mislead, based on the particular evidence being used.

Often, I see or hear that livestock creates 14% of all greenhouse gases but often what’s ignored is the fact this is a global average figure.

It is regularly cited by the press, due to being referenced in the UN’s FAO report in 2013. However, the most accurate figure for the UK, in line with the Paris Accord, is around 6%.

This is an issue we regularly raise with our counterparts in the media and I have recently had some positive dialogue with the BBC on the use of the statistic in their climate impact calculator, as well as sharing with them other useful environment-related data.

When considering a high proportion of red meat consumed in the UK is produced domestically, this sort of narrative tends to muddy the facts.

Working in the press office at AHDB, a big part of our role involves looking at reports like these and scrutinising the data. Often, we are in contact with journalists, not only challenging claims made by some about industry matters but more often providing them with independent evidence-based research.

During COP26 we have provided the Channel 4 programme Food Unwrapped with data around net-zero beef, as well as fronting a levy payer to talk about this subject on BBC 5 live.

We also provided journalists with some clear facts around agriculture’s impact on the environment, as well as providing case studies.

This sort of work is important because as an evidence-based organisation we need to ensure the media is using and being given the right information.

Another example of this can be seen from September when a joint letter from AHDB, the NFU and Dairy UK to The Times was published challenging questions around the sustainability of UK dairy production but also correcting the false claim that livestock in the UK are routinely given antibiotics.

Working with stakeholders is an important part of what we do as we are able to independently identify and analyse issues that may need addressing.

In fact, today you can see an example of this behind the scenes work with an article published in The Grocer which raises questions around the robustness of data being used to measure the number of deaths attributed to diets high in red meat.

We also make formal complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) when necessary, with one such case ongoing. And despite being subject ourselves to an ASA complaint we were able to robustly challenge that claims made about our We Eat Balanced campaign by the Vegan Society should not be upheld - Landmark ruling for farming as AHDB's ‘We Eat Balanced’ complaints not upheld by ASA | AHDB.

The We Eat Balanced campaign plays an important part in highlighting to consumers the benefits of meat and dairy in people’s daily diets.

The work we do to highlight the benefits of livestock as part of the UK’s food system and to challenge and inform the media when incorrect claims are made about its environmental impact will remain a core part of what me and my team do as we look to help farmers and levy payers to shape their future.

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