A row between farmers and children’s television programme Blue Peter has erupted after the programme encouraged children to reduce their meat consumption over two weeks as part of an initiative to learn about the climate crisis.
Last year, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation said meat and dairy specifically accounts for around 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and scientists have warned that for the world to meet its target of limiting global warming to “well below” 2C, some degree of shift away from meat eating will be necessary.
The CBBC programme is encouraging children to become “Blue Peter Climate Heroes” and earn a green Blue Peter badge by undertaking a range of activities including switching off appliances to save power, wrapping their lunches in reusable materials instead of plastics, planting pollinator-friendly plants, and by “choosing a couple of vegetarian meal options during your two weeks as part of a healthy balanced diet.”
But the row erupted after an episode of Blue Peter broadcast a “go meat-free” message on screen.
Reducing meat consumption is widely considered by scientists to be a vital means of cutting emissions of harmful greenhouse gases.
Meat production uses around 82 per cent of the world’s farmland and produces 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But British farmers have argued that Blue Peter’s approach contained sweeping statements which didn’t reflect how farms are responding to the climate crisis.
UK farming bodies the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Quality Meat Scotland, and Meat Promotion Wales, have written an open letter condemning the initiative, calling for the BBC and Blue Peter to “reconsider their one-sided messaging” and asked for UK red meat industry leaders to meet with the head of children’s programming to share information about the positive message around red meat.
Meanwhile the National Beef Association’s chief executive officer Neil Shand has also written to BBC director general Tim Davie to complain about the scheme.
“The Blue Peter remit appears to be to encourage children not to eat meat without giving any positive balanced view on the benefits of meat, either to their health, to local industry or to countryside management, or any negative view on how fruit, vegetables or other plant food – and their corresponding air miles – might impact the environment,” said Mr Shand.
Sheep farmer Gareth Wyn Jones, from North Wales attacked Blue Peter’s stance in a video on his Facebook page: “In this country we have got grass and grass can be produced very easily on marginal lands that you can’t grow crops,” he said.
“This land will produce some of the top-quality proteins, beef and lamb, and is produced in a sustainable, regenerative, and very environmentally friendly way.
“Why aren’t we telling our children this? My kids know it. Why is Blue Peter and CBBC with a massive platform with millions of young minds listening not taking the opportunity to give them a balanced argument, show them the facts, give them the opportunity to make that decision?
“These children aren’t stupid: give them an educated choice not just one sweeping statement that doesn’t work.”
He added: “I am disappointed as a farmer and as a father. Things need to change, we need to make sure we are talking to our children about seasonal food, locally produced food, environmentally friendly food, regenerative agriculture.”
But the impact of upland sheep farming across the UK has also been sharply criticised in recent years. As well as the methane generated by the animals, and the large amount of farmland required to grow crops to feed them as well as rear them, animals such as sheep and deer also prevent the return of trees which would store carbon, promote biodiversity and prevent flooding.
A BBC spokesperson told The Independent: “We are not asking Blue Peter viewers to give up meat. That was made clear both on the show and on our website which has been updated to reflect that buying seasonal food or local grass-fed meat can also make a difference to climate change.
“There are also other pledge options to choose from to earn a Green badge such as switching off lights or using reusable water bottles.”
In 2019 the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report on climate change and land usage and described moving to plant-based diets as “a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change”. The report included a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption.