MLA statement on ACMA investigation into Catalyst

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) welcomes the outcome of ACMA’s investigation into a complaint lodged by MLA regarding an episode of the ABC’s Catalyst program, titled ‘Feeding Australia’ broadcast on 14 August 2018.

MLA pursued its complaint with ACMA following an initial complaint directly to the ABC, which was dismissed after an internal review.

This was a course of action MLA did not take lightly. As a science program with a national audience, Catalyst and the ABC as the public broadcaster had a responsibility to present the most accurate information to all Australians. Unfortunately, instead we believe the program failed to use information that is reflective of Australian beef production and grossly overestimated claims of environmental impact in order to promote alternative protein sources.

MLA set out in its initial complaint to the ABC, that the commentary and so-called “facts” presented by Catalyst were misleading and inaccurate regarding Australia’s beef production’s water use and impact on the environment.

Indeed, one of the central complaints from MLA about the program was that it was also not a fair representation of Australia’s beef production system. MLA noted that while the program took the time to investigate and report on the current research and development being undertaken in many other agricultural sectors (eg. barramundi farming) it chose not to do the same for the Australian beef industry.

The ACMA investigation found that the ABC Catalyst program fell short in its statutory duty to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism.

They also found that the program had “an absence of references to improvements in beef production and that the presentation of beef as the only case study in which replacements for the existing food were presented.”

Catalyst seemingly did not engage with the beef industry or even visit a beef operation in their efforts to gather and present the program with due impartiality. It presented the future of eating beef as non-existent and unsustainable in the long term (in fact suggesting that the only viable future of protein is either insects or plant-based alternatives to meat). There was also no reference to any research and development currently underway to improve beef production productivity as well as reduce the environmental footprint of the Australian red meat industry.

Many Australian red meat producers have long been some of the most loyal ABC listeners and viewers, indeed relying on the ABC for a great deal of information and content in many rural and regional locations. They rightly expected impartial coverage of their work, especially to a number of metropolitan viewers.

Australian red meat producers are proud of the work they do. Our Australian beef and lamb is in high demand both domestically and in many international markets – the result of the strong reputation of our producers and our production systems.

Producers and our industry have also been extremely proactive in their focus on continual improvement around sustainability, including industry initiatives such as the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework. Ongoing significant research and development investments in the productivity and sustainability of our industry includes a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. It is this work – in many cases world leading – that should have been highlighted by Catalyst in their program.

MLA renews its invitation to the ABC to contact MLA within its role as the industry’s marketing, research and development service provider whenever the ABC requires information about the industry’s sustainability credentials and its focus on continual improvement.

To read ACMA’s finding in full, visit https://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/abc-catalyst-report-breaches-impartiality-rules

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