Farmers Weekly Interactive, Richard Allison, April 29, 2004
The BBC has been accused of misleading the public over welfare conditions of broilers following the Food Police programme transmitted on Feb 18. In a strongly worded letter of complaint, lodged on the BBC website on Mar 1, chief executive of the British Poultry Council (BPC), Peter Bradnock, complained on behalf of the council about the use of secret filming and commentary by the pressure group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). It made serious claims on poor chicken welfare on UK units centred on lameness and hock burns. BPC are still awaiting a reply to their complaint.
The BPC accused the BBC of breaking their own reporting rules by misleading the public, failing to be impartial and providing the industry any right of reply. The programme failed to refer to a Royal Veterinary College report on UK chicken leg weakness, submitted by BPC or mention any major government/industry welfare studies. Instead reference was made to a survey of hock burn failing to point out that this was carried out by CIWF was not statistically valid. The programmed claimed CIWF had been lobbying government for more than a decade to improve conditions for broiler chickens; but failed to mention the great improvements that the industry has achieved over this period.
In addition, the BPC questioned the impartiality of the programme director who admitted she didn't eat meat on animal welfare grounds. "She said that her personal beliefs would not influence in the making of the programme, but we do not share her view." Peter Bradnock stressed that the poultry industry was not interviewed in the programme and could not put its case forward. He pointed out that under BBC rules, programmes should be impartial with no conflicts of interest.
The letter goes on to describe several inaccuracies on the causes of hock burn, including that it was caused by selecting birds for high growth rates. The interview also gave the public the impression that chickens sitting in their own urine-soaked litter was the cause of hock burn and that birds urinated like mammals. The BPC stressed to the BBC that it is nonsense as birds excrete urine as relatively dry urate crystals with faeces.
Moving onto the secret filming in the slaughterhouse the BPC claims the sole purpose was to add drama to the programme and not inform the public. The commentary referred to strange black marks - hock burns - as if it they were a mystery the industry was hiding yet CIWF already knew that hock burns occur on farm as published in several of their own reports. The BBC did ask the BPC to film chickens on a farm, fixing a short deadline within a week of Christmas, which the BPC arranged. But this was only briefly used and with apparent reluctance by the programme maker. The letter concludes that the programme colluded in the promotion of the one-sided views of CIWF and allowed it to be used as a vehicle for that purpose in clear breach of several of the BBC Producer's Guidelines.
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