BBC2 Trust Me I’m a Doctor Series 9 episode 6
Date 20th February 2020
Dear ‘Trust Me’
I am writing to complain about and to ask some questions about the segment shown between 12-18 mins in Episode 6 of Series 9 of Trust Me I’m a Doctor shown on BBC2 on 19th February 2020 (Ref 1). This section was led by the presenter Dr Guddi Singh.
I have quoted some verbatim extracts followed by the questions that they raise…
1) Singh: “The authors list reads like a who’s who of health scientists from around the world.”
Question: The authors list was in fact a who’s who of proponents of vegetarian/vegan diets – why was this not made clear? (Ref 2)
The report was also backed by the who’s who of the agrichemical and fake food industry (see below). Why were these conflicts not reported?
2) Singh: “Red meat – like beef and lamb – is the most damaging... Eating too much increases your risk of serious illnesses like cancer, stroke and heart disease.”
Question: Where is the evidence that beef and lamb increases the risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease? (Top level evidence should be systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials conducted on beef and lamb).
Question: The images shown while this comment was being made were of morbidly obese people, to establish a clear impression that eating meat causes obesity. Why was this done? Where is the evidence that eating beef and lamb per se causes obesity? Why was this misleading impression allowed?
3) Singh: “And when it comes to the environment it’s estimated that producing just 100g of beef results in 105kg of greenhouse gases.”
Question: Why was an image of a US feedlot shown in parallel with this narrative? Why was it not made clear that the environmental argument only applies to CAFO farming? Why was it not made clear that it has no relevance to grass-fed farming, which needs little more than rain and growing grass – of which we have plenty in the UK? Why was no balance provided with a farmer being interviewed?
4) Dr Marco Springmann: “Red meat needs to be reduced by about 90% placing red meat in the category of a treat – once a week. If you want a steak – it’s OK, but maybe only once a month.”
Question: Why was it not made clear that Springmann follows a plant based diet and thus is recommending what he eats and what he wants the world to eat? Why was no balance provided with a non-vegan being interviewed?
Correspondence with another of the EAT Lancet authors and Director of the EAT Stockholm Centre, Fabrice DeClerck, has established that the meat consumption limits in the EAT Lancet commission were not set to have any climate/environmental considerations. Why did the BBC not research the EAT Lancet commission more thoroughly?
5) Singh: “Red meat is a good source of protein and minerals like iron. The UK government recommends an average of 70g a day. The planetary diet would slash that to just 7g of beef or lamb and 7g of pork… instead the study recommends we get most of our protein from fish, poultry, pulses, soy and eggs. And the majority of our diet would consist of whole grains. vegetables, fruit and nuts. All good for our health and much less damaging to the planet.”
Question: Why did the programme not clarify that the EAT Lancet diet allows for no animal produce to be consumed whatsoever? i.e. a vegan diet. Even the fish intake recommendation is 28g/day and can be zero and the egg recommendation is 13g/day and can be zero. Why did the programme not clarify that the plant protein options mentioned (pulses and soy) are incomplete – that only animal protein is naturally complete? Why did the programme not clarify that the EAT Lancet diet is seriously deficient in many essential nutrients? (Vitamin D, retinol, calcium, iron, omega-3 (DHA/EPA) and more) (Ref 3).
6) The programme then took a family with an utterly appalling diet of junk and put them on a plant-based whole food diet for a week and – no surprise – they felt better. Had they been put on a whole food diet that included grass-fed red meat, wild oily fish, free-range eggs and local farm dairy; they could have felt better still.
Question: Why was the benefit of whole food, separate to plant-based, not made clear?
7) Singh: “If the family carry on eating like this – instead of the way they used to – they’ll reduce their risk of obesity, cancer and heart disease and could live up to 10 years longer.”
Question: Where is the evidence for this? Especially in the light of the next question…
8) Singh: “And if you fancy giving it a go our website….”
Question: The clip closed with an invitation to viewers to try the diet. A 7-day plan is provided on the web site (Ref 4). Please can you prove that this dietary plan meets essential nutrient requirements? Especially for omega-3 (in the right form: DHA and EPA); choline; calcium; retinol; B12; D3; K2 and heme iron?
I look forward to your response.
Dr Zoë Harcombe, PhD
Ref 1: The clip on BBC iPlayer (at 12-18 mins)
Ref 2: Majority of EAT-Lancet Authors (>80%) Favored Vegan/Vegetarian Diets
Ref 3: Nutritional analysis of the EAT Lancet diet and the letter that the Lancet wouldn’t publish.
Ref 4: An article on the programme with a link to download the 7-day diet.
I chased for a reply to this on 1st July 2020 and then again on October 5th 2020. On October 5th, I also tweeted to request a reply. Funnily enough I then received one later that day apologising for the delay and saying “there was a typo in the email address which meant you didn’t receive it.”
The reply in full was:
“Thank you for your letter of 20th February. The purpose of the short programme segment to which you refer, broadcast on Trust Me, I’m A Doctor on 19th February, was to set out briefly the key findings of a piece of published research that had been widely reported in the press; talk to one of its authors; and discover how feasible it was in practice for a British family with an unhealthy diet to adopt, for a week, the radically different diet proposed in the paper. While we appreciate you would have wished the item to look at alternatives to this diet, and to have included additional detail around some aspects of it, those were not the aims of this piece, which sought to give viewers a concise overview within the constraints of a short slot in a 30-minute programme.
“The diet in question was published in a peer-reviewed report in The Lancet, by a group of 37 scientists drawn from universities and institutions in 16 different countries – including, in the UK, the University of Oxford; City, University of London; and Chatham House. Though the diet is based on the principle that the majority of calories we consume would come from plant-based foods, it is neither a vegetarian nor a vegan diet; it specifies recommended maximum intake values for red and white meats and fish, and includes dairy and eggs. We are satisfied that the programme accurately reflects the key aspects of the diet. Trust Me, I’m A Doctor does not seek to promote this or any other diet – indeed, across nine series, the programme has explored many other dietary interventions, and has frequently advised viewers to eat a balanced diet that includes lean meat and fish, in line with the dietary advice published by the NHS.
“The claims made in the report for the health impacts of regular consumption of meat are drawn from a variety of research papers published in international peer-reviewed journals including the British Journal of Nutrition, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Archives of Internal Medicine and the BMJ. Where the programme cited the report’s findings on environmental harm caused by cattle farming globally, images were selected to illustrate relevant farming methods.
“The recipes which are available to viewers to download are not claimed to provide complete nutrition, simply to allow viewers to try the meals eaten by the family featured on the programme if they wish. The recipes include meat, fish, eggs and dairy, as well as a wide range of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and pulses.
“We hope this clarifies the purpose of this piece, and thank you for contacting us.
“BBC Complaints Team”