FARM THEFTS by animal welfare 'activists' should not be regarded as either trivial nor funny – but tonight's Channel 4 programme 'How to steal pigs and influence people’ may be in danger of doing just that.

In a joint statement, the UK farming unions have added their voices to complaints about the apparent tone of the broadcast. While the point of the programme appears to be an examination of the social media fame motivating young people to act out supposedly selfless behaviours, farmers are concerned that the humorous handling of the topic will normalise trespass and theft on rural properties.

NFU Scotland, NFU, NFU Cymru and the Ulster Farmers Union said: “We are deeply concerned that Channel 4 is broadcasting this documentary, despite being contacted beforehand by those involved in the farming industry who know only too well the very real impact that this kind of criminal behaviour has on farmers, their families, their business and the health and welfare of their animals.

“We believe that the title and trailers for ‘How to Steal Pigs and Influence People’, with promotional wording talking about ‘daring farmyard heists,’ shows that the programme makers regard this illegal activity as trivial and humorous," said the statement.

"Channel 4 has said the programme will not glamorise or condone illegal activity. We are interested to know how this statement is compatible with its own admission that the documentary will feature illegal activity by activists. We want to understand what efforts the broadcaster has gone to to pass information on to the police regarding any criminal behaviour it has either filmed or featured in the programme.

“Farms are not only businesses, they are also homes for families," it added. "It is quite astonishing that Channel 4 have chosen to commission and broadcast this programme given the dreadful impact that these attacks have on the health and wellbeing of those farmers targeted. We do not understand why farming families are being seen as fair game by the broadcaster and treated differently from other British citizens who all have the right to be protected from criminal behaviour and not to see those criminals given airtime and profile."

The farm unions added that they fully supported the actions of the National Pig Association which was taking legal advice regarding the programme.

A Channel 4 spokesperson said: “This is an observational documentary on a relevant and topical subject which is widely discussed. The programme complies with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and does not condone or encourage criminal activity.”