"A NARROW and grossly incomplete presentation of red meat production" – that was the damning verdict on the BBC's latest documentary on the relationship between livestock and the world's climate emergency.
Since the summer, when the Corporation was slammed for its misleading reporting of the 'Climate Change and Land Use' report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it has faced accusations of 'vegan bias'. Last night's ‘Meat: A threat to our planet?’ broadcast did little to remedy that perception, as it gave but the barest nod to the vast differences between the UK's grass-fed extensive red meat productions systems, and the intensive feed lots of the Americas and Asia, preferring instead to mount an often emotional broad brush attack on meat in general.
This was all the more odd given that the BBC's online pre-publicity for its show had contained balanced comment from within the UK's scientific and farming sectors, and that actual footage exploring the benefits of grass-fed extensive livestock was apparently cut before broadcast, suggesting that there may be some editorial conflict within the BBC itself about how the issue should be portrayed.
However, once bitten, twice shy, the UK red meat sector was aware that the documentary was coming, and this morning hit the ground running with statements intended to add all the detail about its environmental credentials that the BBC, for whatever reason, decided to omit.
Speaking from the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, Martin Morgan said: “It comes as no surprise that in the run up to the festive period we are treated to yet another programme from the BBC pillorying the farming industry, without doing their job properly and researching the true facts as to how livestock are farmed in the British Isles. What happens on the other side of the world is not comparable to the sustainable production methods that have been deployed by generations of UK farmers.
“Predictably, the programme failed to address the vast differences between the feed lots of the USA and the extensive grass-based production of beef and lamb on which the supreme quality of Scotch beef and lamb is founded," said Mr Morgan. "It was a narrow and grossly incomplete presentation of red meat production and was totally lacking in balance.
“It is hugely disappointing that in presenting this image of meat production to UK consumers, the producers of this particular ‘hatchet job’ failed to seek any input from Quality Meat Scotland or their counterparts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland," he added.
Offering just that input in her own statement, QMS chair Kate Rowell said: “When it comes to sustainability, the Scottish red meat industry is in stark contrast to intensive production methods which are used in other countries. 
“We have an abundant, natural fresh water supply and produce quality beef and lamb from the grass and rough grazing which make up around 80% of Scotland’s agricultural land which is not suitable for cereal, fruit or vegetable production. Scotland’s grassland also acts as a carbon sink and grazing animals provide habitats for wildlife and help to maintain the landscape.
“When consumers see the Scotch Beef PGI, Scotch Lamb PGI and Specially Selected Pork brands in their supermarket or butcher’s shop they can be assured that the meat they are buying has come from quality assured, sustainable Scottish farms where animal welfare and high production standards are a priority."
Earlier in the week, the promotional body issued its first red meat industry 'shout out', highlighting the work it was doing on behalf of the sector – and acknowledging that part of that workload now included a very conscious effort to counter the 'negative media' exemplified by the BBC's recent documentary output.
Outspoken champion of Scotch lamb, Perthshire farmer, producer, and food lover Jim Fairlie conceded that the basic message about the reality of climate change was undeniable, and that some of the scenes witnessed in the BBC programme were truly shocking – but insisted that the global situation was a 'golden opportunity' for the Scottish red meat industry. 
The recent IPCC report, although misrepresented by the BBC, contained sections that strongly endorsed Scottish-style meat production systems, and Mr Fairlie suggested that the industry had so far failed to make the most of that marketing advantage.
He noted that the co-chair of the IPCC Working Group, Debra Roberts, had stated: "Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change"
"What Debra Roberts is advocating here is exactly what Scottish red meat production is all about, and we need our marketing bodies to be fighting back with full vigour to make sure this message is fully understood," said Mr Fairlie.
The Soil Association, an organisation whose environmental credentials are well-established with UK consumers, also sprang to the defence of grass-fed livestock. It's head of policy for food and health, Rob Percival, said: "The BBC's ‘Meat: A threat to our planet?’ documentary showed the stark differences between livestock production systems. We should be wary of trade deals that fail to protect British farmers, or that allow meat produced to lower environmental or animal welfare standards onto our supermarket shelves.
"In the UK, when animals are grazed on pasture, this can capture carbon in soils and benefit wildlife, as the documentary recognised. We should stop importing feed crops associated with rainforest clearance, which are primarily fed to pigs and chickens, and re-orient our diets around more sustainable meat and plant proteins. This will mean eating less meat overall, but more meat from nature-friendly farming systems like organic."
Landowners body Scottish Land and Estates warned against the 'overly simplistic' methods being used to measure livestock's carbon footprint. Its head of policy, Stephen Young, said: “Scotland’s farmers are already playing a crucial role in fighting climate change through world-class production methods such as maximising the use of grass to feed livestock. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions when compared to systems used in other countries such as using soya and corn to feed livestock. Scotland’s climate is perfect for meat production with abundant rainwater and ample grass for grazing and feeding.
“To help fight climate change and secure the future of rural communities, people should make a conscious decision to buy Scotch meat, which is also produced to some of the highest welfare standards in the world, rather than imported meat of unknown quality and provenance," stressed Mr Young.
“Overly simplistic methods for measuring the carbon footprints of farms with livestock need to be urgently changed. The methodology should be more realistic and take into account the work farms are doing to not only reduce emissions but also to capture carbon in our soils and trees, which has a positive effect on the environment.”