Wednesday, November 27, 2019

BBC food documentary targets livestock farming

‘Meat: a Threat to our Planet’: A travesty of a documentary

BBC's Liz Bonnin was shocked at what she saw
This programme shown on BBC 1 on Nov 25 2019 featured Liz Bonnin. Liz is a clone of TV investigator Stacey Dooley. They  are both highly concerned with global issues and travel the world looking for and exposing them. The Guardian commented on a recent Dooley programme "The sight of celebrities making weepy 'personal journeys' towards understanding poverty has begun to feel more and more crass, especially where it overshadows the people whose experiences they’re meant to be understanding in the first place."
In ‘Meat: a Threat to our Planet’ Bonnin travelled round the world to showcase the impact to the world environment of intensive livestock units.  From the run-off of manure;  the consumption of feed imported from Brazil and the consequent destruction of the Amazon rain forest; the use of fish meal in animal feed which has decimated stocks of anchovy and sardine - she linked meat production with global devastation. Her answer was to stop eating meat.

Liz Bonnin missed the target 

Bonnin could have told us that over 90%
of US beef comes from feedlots, while in UK it is about 7%
She wanted to make the case for giving up meat on the grounds of the environmental damage done to the planet. While David Attenborough shows what a beautiful and fascinating place this plant is, Bonnin shows the damage to the earth from intensive livestock. Her problem was that she made the case through emotion: in a cattle feedlot she says “it makes me sick to my stomach”. In the plane she manages to hold back the tears. She would have had far more impact if she told her audience that 97% of the beef produced in the U.S. is grain-fed feedlot beef, while just 3% is grass-fed*. She could have mentioned that 72% of British beef is fattened on grass, and explained to her British audience that beef production has two phases, rearing and fattening, and the labels explaining how the meat is produced.
In this BBC programme facts were far less important than emotion. The idea was to drive home the message that meat is destroying the planet - “we may not be here much longer” - and the answer is to go vegetarian, which Bonnin claims to have done herself. For life? Ever and ever? Or just till the fuss dies down.
The programme failed to mention that the present size of the US beef cow herd, which today numbers 31.7 million, is significantly less than it has been. Numbers have been in decline since 1968 when they reached a peak of 45.1 million, and the last time they were as low as 30 million was in 1962, when the cattle were in fields not feedlots. Feedlot beef is shown to produce lower quantities of greenhouse gas, both  because the animals have fewer days getting to slaughter weight and their digestion is faster and less gassy.
Liz Bonnin might find the production system not to her taste, but, given these figures, to blame the sector for global warming seems a stretch.  

Where are the answers?

Brazilian agricultural expansion is clearly out of control. Rain forest destruction needs not only halting but the forest needs reinstating. There is a solution to slash and burn farming, as we featured in Volume 22-2  AUG - NOV 2013, but who takes any notice? Global organisations as well as TV directors are interested in shock horror which raises huge funds from a public raised on a diet of alarm.

Global management of rain forests 

There is a solution to the Amazon rain forest. In the same way that individual farmers will manage their land to suit their own purposes, countries with rain forests will manage their territory so that the politicians remain in power. The world needs to apply both carrot and stick to the rain forest countries to steer them to value their natural resources, especially rain forests. 'Carrot' in terms of developing their industry away from the production and processing of farm produce, helping their economy move away from agriculture. 'Stick' in terms of sanctions based on the way they manage, or fail to manage, the resources under their control. If the USA can apply sanctions on Iran for the developments they are making to their nuclear programme, we can surely do the same on Brazil for their Rain Forest management. And the developed West could allow similar controls on the resource which it uses and misuses...
Amazon rain forest being cleared for grazing cattle

Animals have been around longer than feedlot cattle

The Bonnin answer of imploring people to give up meat is no solution. The evidence is sketchy. First, the herd figures don’t coincide with rates of global warming. Second, there is no explanation of the fact that this planet has been home to millions of cattle, sheep and other ruminants long before the discovery of oil. The phrase ‘horsepower’ is no accident. Horses were used to transport people, goods, turn pumps, and with oxen tilled fields and powered agriculture. They all burped and farted, and their numbers were huge. Yet the growth and following decline in their population doesn’t appear to have influenced the earth’s climate.

Meat price is the control mechanism

If Bonnin wanted to blame global climate change on meat consumption she needed more facts and less rhetoric. There is one way to force a decline in meat consumption and that is to increase the price. The price will go up if supply is reduced. Supply will be reduced if the costs of production increase. Growth promoters and in-feed antibiotics reduce the cost of production, so globally stopping their use would be effective. Planning permission for livestock expansion, controls of livestock farming, there are a million and one ways to prevent the industry expanding - should that shown to be necessary. But Bonnin wasn’t looking for answers, only sensation. Her’s was a drama fabricated from partial facts and images. There is a lot that farmers can do to be more friendly towards the environment, but this programme unfortunately provides no incentive for them to act.

*  According to Dr. Dale Woerner, assistant professor with the Center for Meat Safety & Quality at Colorado State University.

In 2004, Bonnin was locked in a giant kennel along with MPs Paul Burstow, Evan Harris and Ivan Henderson and actress Liza Goddard, BBCNewsround presenter Lizzie Greenwood and DJ Becky Jago in a stunt to launch the annual RSPCA Week to raise awareness and funds.

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Current issue #111 Nov 2019-Feb 2020

Farm safety; 'Made it Myself' beef housing; farm borrowing interest rates

A double camera system means you can see traffic approaching from both left and right. The idea comes from Niall Murphy who farms in Co Armagh, N Ireland. If you're into beef, pages 39, 40, 41, 42 show what you can do with crash barriers. Pg 26 has an article ‘Reasons why the beef situation in Ireland is critical’. The financial piece on 21 makes sobering reading about interest rates, which have never been so low for so long.

Information and bright ideas are going to be crucial in future years as the transition period leaving the EU progresses.