Last week we blogged about the news that Marks & Spencer was planning on selling red grouse at two of its flagship stores in London (see here). Naturally, given our interest in the management of grouse moors and the widespread illegal persecution of raptors that is associated with a lot of them, we wanted to know if M&S could reassure their customers that they were sourcing their red grouse from suppliers who didn’t illegally kill wildlife to increase their grouse stock. This seemed a perfectly reasonable question, especially as we learned that the grouse moors in question included some in Yorkshire, a county with one of the worst records for raptor persecution in the whole country.
We (and many of you, thank you!) emailed Executive Director of Food at M&S, Steve Rowe, to ask him some questions.
It turned out that Mr Rowe was away until 27th August, but a response was received from Mike Rogers from the Executive Office. Here’s what he said:
Thank you for emailing Steve Rowe to share your concerns about the introduction of grouse into some of our stores. As a member of his personal team, I’m replying on his behalf.
We have the highest standards of animal welfare and only source from suppliers we know and trust. Our game range is sourced from well-managed estates across the UK stretching from Nottinghamshire to the Scottish borders, with the majority of product coming from Yorkshire and Northumberland.
Game is one of the most animal welfare friendly meats you can eat as it is totally free range – the birds live totally in the wild and in their natural habitats. It is also a very sustainable option and good estate management and conservation intended for game shooting actually stops deforestation, and encourages the protection of the countryside.
There are no breeding pairs of hen harriers on the grouse moors we take from and there are severe penalties for anyone that interferes with Hen Harriers – this is actively enforced not just for Hen Harriers but all species of raptors.
I appreciate you taking the time to get in touch with us to raise your concerns about the sale of grouse in our stores. I hope my email has helped to reassure you of how seriously we take our commitments to the environment and ethical sourcing.
Your M&S Customer Service
Clearly Mr Rogers didn’t have a scoobies what he was talking about and was just regurgitating some inaccurate and frankly absurd propaganda probably fed to him by someone with a vested interest in selling red grouse.
We wrote back to Mr Rogers, pointed out the flaws in his statement and asked again if he would please name the actual grouse moors from where the M&S red grouse were being sourced. A very reasonable question, you’d think, given M&S’s stated policies on ethical food sourcing, including their ‘Named Farmer’ scheme, designed to provide traceability to secure consumer confidence.
This is the message that came back, this time from Stephen Duxbury in the Executive Office:
Thank you for your email. I hope you don’t mind me responding on Mike’s behalf.
I’d like to reiterate that we are working with only the most sustainable and well-managed estates, and do not work with any suppliers that interfere with Hen Harriers. We take issues regarding animal welfare very seriously, as evidenced in our Plan A programme. You can read more about our Plan A at http://plana.marksandspencer.com/?intid=gft_plana.
I’m afraid I am unable to give you specific details of our suppliers, as this is commercially sensitive information.
We are unable to comment further on this matter at this time, but I hope you will not interpret this for a lack of interest from M&S. We are closely monitoring this matter and will continue to review the situation. This will enable us to guarantee our suppliers are meeting our exacting ethical standards.
Thank you again for your email.
So, M&S are apparently ‘not working with any suppliers that interefere with hen harriers’. How can they be so sure? Did they have a conversation with their suppliers? Did it go something like this? –
M&S: Are you involved in the illegal persecution of hen harriers on your grouse moor?
Red grouse supplier: No.
Genius. Of course nobody in their right mind is going to admit to any involvement in any criminal activity. Did M&S do anything else to ensure that their suppliers are not engaged in the criminal persecution of wildlife? We think their customers have a right to know. We would also like to know why M&S think revealing the name of the grouse moors is too ‘commercially sensitive’ and yet with other meat products they’re prepared to name the actual farmer!
There are plenty of other questions to ask them, too. Mark Avery has a cracking blog on the M&S scandal today, with further questions about legal predator control and lead poisoning (see here).
M&S have done their best to shut down this conversation (see the last paragraph in the above letter) but that just ain’t going to happen. Steve Rowe (or his colleagues) have one last chance to answer our questions (namely, from which grouse moors are they sourcing their red grouse and what assessment have they used to determine whether the illegal persecution of raptors is carried out on those moors?) before we take the next step.
What will be the next step? The Trading Standards Office. We think the TSO will be very interested in the claims M&S are making about this product, particularly under the terms of the Trade Descriptions Act. It wouldn’t be the first time that M&S have found themselves under investigation by the TSO – in 2005 they were fined £10,000 + costs for making misleading claims about some of their products (see here). And just today, Tesco has been fined a whopping £300,000 + costs for misleading its customers over strawberries (see here).
Please join us in emailing Steve Rowe today and give him (or his colleagues) 7 days to answer these questions fully or else they can do their explaining to Trading Standards. Email: email@example.com
18 thoughts on “Not just any red grouse…part 2”
Interesting! I’ve had no response whatsoever…. :-s The statement about there being no Hen Harriers on the moors where they source their grouse is frankly an absurd statement for an executive to make! Like you say, he clearly has no idea. So, the fact that they tell us these grouse are from the region Nottingham to the Scottish Borders makes it alright. Horse meat anyone? ;-)
Keep at them chaps..at the very least they will start to realise that grouse shooting and all that goes with it is a highly controversial issue – and if it isnt now it soon will be….and food retialers dont like controversy.
That M&S sells produce from the illegally occupied Palestinian territories speaks volumes about their commitments to “ethical sourcing”.
Sent today to M&S:
I understand that M&S propose to begin selling red grouse (Lagopus lagopus) in two of its’ London Stores from October of this year. As both a life-long customer of Marks & Spencer and a committed conservationist I have some deep concerns about this proposal.
All estates that facilitate red grouse shooting in the United Kingdom do so by artificially rearing the birds in un-natural densities that are equally stressful to the birds themselves as well as taxing for the heather moorland in which they are raised. In the few areas where the grouse can be observed naturally in Britain, they are in decline due disease or to the loss or degradation of habitat caused in no small part by the demands of commercial shooting. The habitat in which the birds are raised for shooting are quite intensively and intrusively managed so as to prove detrimental to other wildlife that shares the same ground as the grouse. Long term this is not sustainable.
As you are probably aware, there is intensive debate ongoing, to establish to what extent the intrusion, by game management operators, affects the natural order & balance of the grouse habitat. Certainly there are specific practices, for example the provision of medicated grit and food supplements for the birds, to combat the health problems engendered by the artificially high populations maintained on commercial estates. An additional point relating to the food additives will be mentioned again, shortly.
There is heated disagreement about the persecution of predatory birds & mammals by game management staff and it is certain that illegal persecution and destruction continues on many estates. Because the authorities do not have the will or the resource to monitor the compliance of keepers and managers, there is insufficient evidence to divine the scale of this problem.
However, it is certain that denial of wrongdoing is not a guarantee that protected species are being permitted to thrive. There is greater criminality than is currently acknowledged and that few estates have a pristine record in this. The game shooting lobby continues to resist any movement towards introducing licensing and monitoring of game management personnel and the penalties for illegally killing protected species are seldom effective and seldom enforced.
Game shooting involves the discharge of large amounts of lead into both the target birds and the wider environment. There are two distinct consequences of this:
Shot birds contain lead pellets and, even when those pallets are removed, traces of lead are left behind which are sufficient to give the bird a higher lead content than would be lawfully permissible in any farmed meat products at point of sale. In the case of those birds which have benefited from the aforementioned chemically medicated grit and food supplements, the levels of toxic residue provide a real threat to anyone ingesting the birds.
Lead shot that misses the target becomes widely distributed on the shooting moor. Lead shot that is undisturbed will begin to oxidise and permeate the top levels of soil / peat / grit, depending on the geology of the ground. It can then be taken up by micro-organisms and introduced to the food chain and /or infuse into ground water. The shot will also be picked up by the surviving grouse, or other birds, and used as grist in their gizzards, assisting with the processing of their heather diet. Ingested lead will remain in the birds and its’ toxicity will not diminish.
In either case, lead in food or in the natural environment is not a good for any living part of the system.
These considerations may not sway you from your economic perspectives in the short term. However, this is unlikely to be the end of the matter and I would imagine that M&S will continue to hear from customers who have misgivings about this policy. I would urge you to reconsider and to step away from the plan to sell red grouse. If only for the petty reason that, should anything untoward result from the sale of this product, any adverse publicity will be magnified by the level of concern that has been expressed before the fact.
I have long believed that Marks & Spencer’s is an ethically responsible company with due sense of care for the welfare of their customers, not to mention the natural environment. The company is renowned for the quality of its’ food and has a good reputation for supporting animal welfare. I believe that, if you consider all of the factors which are involved in the proposed venture you will see that commercial benefits will not balance the cost of supporting an elitist practice which continues to resist all efforts to draw it away from its’ feudal origins.
[Ed: great letter, John, thanks]
Wish i could write like that.
I’m curious John how are grouse artificially reared and what food or food additives are they given along with medicated grit?!
Excellent letter. Now what daily paper can you get that in.
Well the Daily Mail broke the story Mike !
Damn!! How did I miss that? I enjoy a good read.
If anyone wants to take the above e-mail, spell-check it and send it to the papers in their own name, you have my blessing.
The person buying game (grouse) for M&S is a chap by the name of Tom Harvey. On Twitter [@tomharveylondon] his profile says this:
“meat buyer for one of Britain’s best loved retail institutions. Massive fan of anything shooting/game or wine related”.
Here’s his LinkedIn profile, with some baffling management-speak where he describes his position at M&S (see para 3) – http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/tom-harvey/28/600/831
Here is an article about pheasant shooting that features Mr Harvey: http://www.oliverthring.com/2012/11/game-on-joining-a-pheasant-shoot.html
According to the Countryside Alliance’s Game to Eat website, ‘Yorkshire Game’ are providing grouse to M&S: http://www.gametoeat.co.uk/top-game-news/not-just-any-wild-grouse
In response to the pheasant shooting article, the following paragraph sums up the shooting industry, showing up their inhumanity, selfishness and bloodlust.
“Suddenly, the first frightened bird comes flapping over the corn. Harvey lifts his shotgun – bang – it tumbles and thumps to the ground. But it’s only wounded, and flaps about in panic and agony. “Grab it and wring its neck,” shouts Harvey. Somehow I catch the bloody, terrified creature and ineptly strangle it. “Leave it. The dogs’ll get it.” The bird’s shit is on my hands.”
I was under the impression that any given sport should, by and large, be an engagement between equal competitors. This is clear evidence that shooting is nothing of a sport, but it is a pastime carried out by those with an unhealthy interest in inflicting unfathomable acts of cruelty on lesser, defenceless creatures.
Other paragraphs, highlight the extreme cruelty and blatant disregards for animal welfare (and the delight of the participants).
“I watched two labradors race each other towards a flapping, wounded pheasant, grab opposite ends and rip the bird in two.”
“As the day went on from drive to drive, and the birds rained from the sky, you somehow forgot – or forgot to remember – that they were living creatures.”
“By the end, they’d stopped being birds at all: they’d become targets, and I winced when I missed them.”
“The total ‘bag’ for the day, between nine guns, was 290 birds, which one person who shoots a lot tells me disapprovingly is “carnage”.”
Here is Yorkshire Game’s website: http://www.yorkshiregame.co.uk/
Not much detail about the estates they source from.
yorkshiregame have a sister company http://www.blackface.co.uk/. According to the blackface website they (blackface) get their game from estates in southern Scotland.
“Ben Weatherall and his brother Percy run Yorkshire Game, which supplies 70 leading London restaurants, and also the Blackface Meat Company, which sells meat to the public online. They have owned the small, hilly moor at Overfingland farm, an hour’s drive south of Glasgow, since 1993, and have spent “a lot of money” reviving the grouse population there.”
The above excerpt is from the London Evening Standard – more here http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/a-day-in-the-death-of-a-glorious-grouse-6741045.html
Overfingland Farm is just off the A702 – and it’s not too far from Leadhills!
I went through the same tiresome e-mail exchanges and ended saying: –
“To hide behind a veil of commercial confidentiality is to suggest that you don’t know if lead shot is being used or if wildlife crime is taking place on these estates. I would expect better of M&S with regard to the quality of its suppliers. I hope that you will take into account, in future, the possible consequences for your firm of sourcing supplies from criminal sources.
I addition, commercial confidentiality does not cover my question with regard to hen harrier numbers in any way at all. It is about M&S’ corporate awareness of an issue. Can you now answer at least that question?”
In response I got the line “I can confirm there are no breeding pairs of hen harriers on the grouse moors we take from and there are severe penalties for anyone that interferes with Hen Harriers – this is actively enforced not just for Hen Harriers but all species of raptors.”
Is it worth replying that I had already told them all of that and that they are still showing no sign of due diligence?
You might want to draw their attention to this specific paper, which compares breeding success of peregrines in these different areas – on and off grouse moors. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320711003831
I also went through the same negative e-mails asking if I minded someone answering for someone else, they are as guilty as hell and they are trying to wriggle out of it, what a shame that people like us just won’t let them.