You know your local pub where they serve pheasants from the local shoot? That may be about to stop. The Food Standards Agency is thought to be preparing to tighten up the rules on game meat, so only ‘approved’ gamedealers will be able to sell it to ‘food businesses’.
British Game Alliance chief executive Liam Stokes confirms that, “There are new processes coming into play, most of them about formulating the process and adding a link, essentially, to the supply chain which immediately you may think about driving up costs but trying to quantify what’s going to be the impact of supply.”
If you sell or give game away to pubs and restaurants and you are not an approved gamedealer or ‘food business’, it looks likely that the Food Standards Agency will stop you.
This has left many small business that consume game on a small scale wondering whether they will continue to serve it. “It will take it away from farm to plate,” says Yorkshire pub landlord Michael ‘Ginger’ Staples. “There will be a middleman involved so I think prices will probably rise so you’ll have a limited supply chain or the supply chain will shrink.”
Ginger runs the Dudley Arms in the North Yorkshire Moors. It’s a former coach house built in the 1600s that’s been in his family since 1969. His concerns reflect those at other pubs and restaurants that pride themselves on using local food sources, including game from local estates and shoots, which is also one of the main attractions for customers. He says that throwing in a middleman could take away some of that charm.
“We do sell a lot of it with small traditional dishes we’ve had for donkey’s years,” says Ginger, “like Squire’s Choice, which goes back to when my father was in his prime, which is a pheasant breast, piece of venison, pigeon, partridge, whatever’s there and we’ll just put it with a nice wine sauce. Very, very popular. People are now eating the game as it should, rare or to medium.”
Businesses such as the Dudley Arms may be small, but they are plenty of them. Andrew Pern is chef and owner of the Star Inn on the other side of the moors. He buys grouse, pheasants, partidge and venison from local shoots. He is worried that that’s about to end, and that he will be forced to buy from a gamedealer who may be outside Yorkshire and will supply the meat vac-packed instead of in-feather.
“Lots of restaurants around the country are proud of what they have,” he says. “We’re very lucky to have shooting estates around us, and people come and stay for that little bit of Yorkshire. When they shoot game, they can take it away”
“They can go to Marks and Spencer and buy it off the shelf, but I think that takes the fun out of it. It’s that sense of tradition again.”
Liam says the BGA is staying neutral. “You’ve got different parts of the [supply] chain that are upset about this, unhappy about this,” he says. “It’s essentially regulating it more than it has been. Certainly with the FSA, I don’t think there’s any more motive beyond food safety. They are just keen for food that’s going into restaurants, butchers and pubs to have gone through the appropriate safety checks along the way.”
Liam refers to an FSA consultation earlier this year on Supply of Wild Game for Human Consumption. It mentions “minor additions” and “the changes will present a relatively low familiarisation cost to those hunters and retailers that the guidance is relevant to, and to local authorities”. Pub owners such as Ginger and Andrew argue that the changes are anything but minor.
Liam says: “Within the consultation, the proposal is what people can do with feathered game is going to be tightened up significantly. The wording right now refers to family and friends and has a lot of latitude about how you interpret friends, which is what has facilitated game being passed into pubs and restaurants.
“The proposal from the consultation would tighten that up to immediate households, so in terms of giving away birds, if you’re not a registered food business, which is under the local authority not the FSA, you cannot give your birds to anyone except your immediate household. So as a shoot, everyone will have to register as a food business with their local authority to keep giving birds of a feather.”
Many in the fieldsports community feel the new regulations are another blow by an urban government that runs food in an urban way. Some of them are coming to the conclusion that the countryside should have its own rules.
“I’d like to see these countryside traditions carry on,” says Ginger, “but I think people get misdirected by the likes of the lobbyists because I see gamekeepers and landowners making massive progression in the managing of moors and woodlands.“
One change taking place in the next month that’s already confirmed is about the export of dead birds. Once Britain has left the European Union you can no longer sell birds in-feather direct to buyers from Europe. From 1 January 2021, gamebirds in-feather cannot be exported to Europe without certification by an ‘official veterinarian’, and must be exported through an ‘approved game handling establishment’, just like processed game meat. If you are currently exporting birds in-feather directly to Europe, you will need to make contact with a game processor to make alternative arrangements. They will be subject to new refrigeration requirements, the presence of a ‘trained person’ on the shoot, and separation of game according to the day it was shot.
“There will be no direct export of birds in the feather to Europe from 1 January,” says Andy Gray from Devon-based gamedealer MC Kelly. “They will have to do it through licensed game dealers who have a health mark. That will no doubt require a veterinary permit and more paperwork for the delivery of pheasants into Europe, but hopefully we can work with shoots and overcome it.”
Liam Stokes says: “Brexit is going to mean potentially more birds in the supply chain, so trying to work out what that actually means in the totality is going to be incredibly hard to see. One thing we’re always saying from BGA’s perspective is communication is going to have to be key through all this. We’re all going to have to do frankly a better job than we have been doing, talking to each other, about how much game we’ve got, who we’re supplying it to, how much game people need to try to smooth this out because there’s a lot of change coming in fairly rapid succession.”
The FSA denies it is about to make changes. In a statement, it says: “The FSA is updating the wild game guidance to clarify existing requirements for traceability which help to protect the consumer. The new guidance does not change the regulations and will not prevent the supply of wild game from local shoots to pubs.”