"Dispatches investigates the rising popularity of veganism," Channel 4 said, describing the program. "It's better for your health, the environment and animals but why do some activists resort to such extreme tactics to promote it?"
During the episode, presenter Morland Sanders - a farmer's son - visits VegFest and talks to vegan blogger Cath Kendall who talked about speciesism, and why she believes people shouldn't eat animals. It also discusses activist Earthling Ed, showing clips of his speech at the 2018 Animal Rights March - though Ed confirmed to Plant Based News that the documentary makers failed to contact him.
The documentary also accused vegans of anti-semitism, after activists at one protest outside a kosher slaughterhouse compared animal agriculture to the Holocaust. The comparison was described as 'deeply offensive' by a spokesman for the abattoir.
"It comes as no surprise that Dispatches would choose to release a program that takes such a biased approach against vegans and try to discredit them - especially during a time that Veganuary is on course for its biggest year ever and establishments like The Guardian and The Economist have already described 2019 as 'the year of the vegan'," Earthling Ed told PBN.
"Looking at the way the Animal Rights March was portrayed, it's not surprising but it is disappointing that they would try to taint something so beautiful and is about compassion and try and make it out to be something people should be wary of.
"Dispatches made no effort to contact me or approach me to be involved in the documentary, or to ask my opinion, or even to sit down and talk with me about the views I have. Instead they tried to take a small misguided shot at me by taking tiny segments of things I said to try and portray me in a light to make people wary of me - rather than create a balanced and fair program."
The documentary also focused on a campaign by vegan charity Viva!, which hit mainstream media headlines in 2017 and 2018 when it filmed grim conditions at Hogwood Pig farm.
Viva! has blasted the documentary for what it called 'biased' coverage. Viva! Founder and Director Juliet Gellatley told Plant Based News that she was 'saddened and disappointed' by the broadcast.
"However, it is a clear indication that Viva! is upsetting the meat cart(el) - they would much rather we did not reveal what happens behind the dismal grey walls of Britain's factory farms," she added.
"The documentary was a misrepresentation of the vegan campaigning charity Viva!," Gellatley said. "Worse, it had a clear agenda to make the owner of one of the largest pig units in Britain appear a victim, rather than show much of the hours of footage taken by Viva! which clearly shows many cases of severe animal cruelty. Dispatches has deliberately manipulated the truth.
"Dispatches never asked to see the unpublished rushes of Hogwood farm of our unannounced investigations. These show many dead adult pigs
left outside to rot; a wheelbarrow filled with dead piglets covered in maggots; mothers giving birth in crates on faeces-covered floors; cannibalisim of the living; overcrowded pigs covered in lacerations.
"Without showing the full picture, it is impossible for viewers to make their own judgement about the conditions found on the farm. Instead, the producers interviewed an ‘independent’ vet, who had been working in the industry for 50 years, and the owner of Hogwood Farm. This does not constitute fair reporting.
"The documentary portrays Viva! as vegan extremists which is totally unjustified. Viva! is an entirely peaceful charity and does not advocate
violence in any form."
Gellatley responds to the documentary
While the documentary prominently featured Brian Hobill, the owner of the farm dubbed 'Hogwood Horror Farm' who accused vegans of 'death threats', it did not feature an interview with anyone from Viva!.
"Viva! agreed to be interviewed on the condition that we could film the interview to show if our comments were taken out of context; however because Dispatches refused, we declined to be interviewed as it was clear the producers had a pre-determined agenda," Gellatley explained.
"When Dispatches contacted us, the bulk of production had already been completed and Viva! had been positioned as vegan extremists."
Claims against vegans
The documentary made some claims about Viva!'s activities, accusing the organization of leaving animal skulls outside Hobill's house, staging large-scale protests outside Hobill's family home. Hobill also made unsubstantiated claims about receiving death threats from vegans.
"The documentary failed to explain that the pig skull left outside the farm came from local woodland, where the owner of Hogwood Farm had been dumping masses of pig bodies and leaving them to rot," said Gellatley. "It also did not explain that the vigils took place opposite the farm, not the owner's home."
Dispatches quoted the RSPCA which visited Hogwood Farm, and confirmed that standards were poor, saying: "While there were no breaches of animal welfare legislation, we don't endorse the low welfare standards on the farm."
Low welfare standards
These low standards are exactly what Viva! wanted to expose, Gellatley said. "The purpose of the Hogwood campaign was to highlight how horrendous the legal standards of UK farming are, not to target individual farmers.
"Tragically, farmed animals are given almost no legal protection. The public deserve to see how animals in Britain are intensively farmed.
"Hogwood is a large scale pig unit, supplying Tesco, and investigated by Viva! due to concerns for the pigs' welfare from local residents. This was not made clear in the documentary."
The documentary ended with presenter Morland Sanders deciding to go vegan, saying: " I know most vegans don't resort to direct action - and it's those people I found most persuasive."
Hardcash Productions, the company which made the program, told Plant Based News: "Dispatches' significant allegations were put to VIVA! at the appropriate point during the making of the programme when the producers and Channel 4 knew what we intended to broadcast, subject to Viva!'s response.
"VIVA!'s responses were fairly included in the programme.
"There was no need to contact Earthling Ed as we were reporting his public pronouncements."
Plant Based News is running a poll on the documentary - you can share your opinion here