In a report published today, the BSC television watchdog said that TV Dinners, the Channel 4 programme presented by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, "breached a convention in a way which would have been disagreeable to many". A BSC statement added that, despite a pre-transmission warning about the programme's content, it "would have taken many viewers by surprise".
Nine complainants felt the programme, which attracted 2 million viewers when broadcast in February, was distasteful. A few referred to the practice of eating placenta as cannibalism.
Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall said yesterday: "There's nothing prescriptive about TV Dinners as a series; it's a fairly light- hearted mix of cooking and social documentary, it reflects all kinds of different approaches, including people who feel the need to break a food taboo.
"If I wasn't getting a number of complaints I would consider I wasn't doing my job. It was one of the stories I most enjoyed doing. There's a lot of complacency in the way we approach our diet and food production, which is why I'm quite happy to be seen eating squirrels and, indeed, placenta. People need to be shocked to make them think about the issues in eating food."
Of the family who ate the placenta in the programme, Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall said that it was obvious it was "a very meaningful thing for them, something they really believed in and not done for shock value". The Clear family decided that, to mark their first grandchild's birth, family and friends would eat the placenta to reflect rituals and customs from other cultures. The idea was to construct a ceremony in which the guests would symbolically join in their gene pool by sharing part of the baby, Indie-Mo's placenta. The family wrote to the programme's producers, Ricochet Films, for recipe advice.
Consumption of the afterbirth can be traced to 1556, when a traveller to the New World reported that Indians ate the placenta immediately after giving birth. Cooking and eating placentas is widely practised among native peoples of Brazil and certain Maori tribes.
In Europe, it was reguarly added to chicken broth and served to recently delivered women until the mid-19th century. More recently, in her book Alternative Maternity, Nicky Wesson advised new mothers to eat the placenta to prevent post-natal depression.
The programme's researchers also contacted the Department of Health, which issued a statement: "If a healthy woman has given birth without any complications, there is no reason why she should not do this. It is a matter of personal choice."
Channel 4 did not respond to the BSC statement other than to say that it stood by the programme, as it had throughout the furore it created before transmission.