Angry farmers attack BBC programme

by Christopher Parkes
Financial Times, 3 May 1979

Farmers and butchers are preparing to bombard the switchboards of BBC local and regional radio stations after next Tuesday’s Brass Tacks programme on BBC2 about modern practices in livestock farming and meat production. They fear they will be coming under attack and aim to set the record straight.

They are angry that their representative organisations were not consulted during the preparations of the programme and their tempers have been raised further by the front cover of the latest Radio Times.

It shows a piglet with the caption: “Health warning: Meat and poultry can seriously affect your health.”

If the protesters have their way the TV panel scheduled to discuss the programme will be heavily loaded with industry spokesmen. When the TV broadcast is over regional and local radio stations will continue the debate on phone-in programmes.

In a letter to the Financial Times, Mr Wally Johnstone, chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission, described the Radio Times caption as “damaging, misleading and entirely without foundation.”

He added: “It is bound to be taken by some people as an official warning, although, of course, no such warning exists and there is no evidence to support such a statement.

“I do not know what will emerge in the TV and radio programmes on May 8, but the front page of the Radio Times makes it clear that the dice are already loaded.”

The National Farmers’ Union, which said it had contemplated taking out an injunction against the Radio Times and forcing the issue’s withdrawal from sale, is pressing for representation on the discussion panel and has alerted farmers, asking them to take part in the local and regional radio phone-in planned to follow the television broadcast.

The NFU is also preparing what a spokesman calls “hot missiles” to be sent speeding to the BBC’s director-general, the chairman of the corporation’s board of governors and Mr Geoffrey Cannon, editor of Radio Times.

Mr Len Moss, of the National Federation of Meat Traders, speaking for retail butchers, called the cover a “scandalous piece of scaremongering.”

The UK Agricultural Supply Trades Association, representing grain and feed merchants whose products, chemicals and medicaments are generally mixed for administration to farm animals, complained that the programme was prepared “without so much as a nod in our direction.”

The Ministry of Agriculture, which was consulted by the programme makers on the use of antibiotics and chemicals, was waiting to see the broadcast before making any comments.

The BBC, claiming that the programme had been adequately researched with the Ministry. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and others, rebuffed complaints about the cover.

“We do not expect that the cover will be seen as anything other than a play on the wording of the familiar tobacco health warnings,” the corporation said.

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