Not just any red grouse…part 4

MSOn 14th August we blogged about Marks and Spencer’s decision to sell red grouse in two of its flagship London stores (see here). We were particularly interested to learn that M&S was sourcing this product from Yorkshire, one of the UK’s worst raptor persecution hotspots, and we wanted to know whether M&S could assure its customers that red grouse were not being sourced from dodgy grouse moor estates involved in the illegal persecution of hen harriers and other protected raptor species. We emailed M&S’s Director of Food, Steve Rowe, and asked him to name the estates involved and to tell us what measures were taken to ensure these estates were not involved in illegal persecution.

On 20th August we blogged about two responses we’d received from M&S (see here). We were told, amongst other things, 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 were also told that the names of the estates could not be divulged “as this is commercially sensitive information“.

We weren’t very impressed and we wrote back to M&S to advise that if they didn’t substantiate their claim of ‘working with only the most sustainable and well-managed estates’ and of ‘not working with any suppliers that interefere with hen harriers’ we would report them to Trading Standards for making what we believed to be misleading claims (see here).

Marks and Spencer has failed to reply and has therefore failed to substantiate its environmental claims about this product. We believe this is in contravention of The Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. This legislation states, amongst other things, that goods sold or supplied must be ‘as described’. An environmental claim made by the retailer to a consumer must be accurate. Public statements made by manufacturers, importers or producers about specific characteristics of the goods – for example, environmental claims in marketing and advertising – must be accurate and are part of the contract that the consumer has with the retailer.

According to information produced by Trading Standards, “In order for a consumer to make informed choices, the trader must provide clear, truthful and accurate information about the environmental claims they have made, which must be capable of being substantiated. The trader should not make vague or ambiguous claims, nor should they mislead consumers by implying that their environmental claims relate to the entire product when this is not the case“.

According to DEFRA’s guide for retailers on making environmental claims (see here), the retailer has to consider the ‘full environmental impact’ of the product (very relevant to red grouse, eh?) and they must also ‘make available transparent information about their environmental claim to those seeking reasonable justification of it’.

Given all the above information, and Marks and Spencer’s refusal to provide evidence to substantiate their environmental claims about their red grouse suppliers, we have now reported them to Trading Standards.

If you also want to report them to Trading Standards, you can do via an online form or by telephone, through the Citizens Advice Bureau (here). We understand that Trading Standards are particularly interested in assessing environmental claims so we’re hopeful that they will launch an investigation in this case.

25 thoughts on “Not just any red grouse…part 4”

  1. I sincerely hope they tell u to stop being so rediculous and see this for the blatent attack on driven grouse moors that it is! You can try and dress it up anyway you like but that is all it is. It has absoloutely nothing to do with public health or traceability of food and could almost be deemed organised and systematic bullying of M+S and their suppliers.

    1. How is asking M&S to substantiate their environmental claims about their red grouse suppliers ‘organised and systematic bullying of M&S and their suppliers’?!

      Was it ‘organised and systematic bullying’ of supermarkets when the government asked them about why they were selling horsemeat under the guise of beef, or was the government simply acting in the public’s interest?

      The law says any environmental claims made about a product must be accurate, and the government’s own guidelines state that the retailer should be able to substantiate any environmental or ‘green’ claims that they make.

      You sound worried, Grouseman. Perhaps you know what Trading Standards will find when they start looking a bit closer at M&S’s claims?

      1. Lets just hope that trading standards is up to the task and don’t allow themselves to be directed to the outcome preferred by the pro shooting establishment in the government, we all know who they are.

      2. Grouseman has gone on the defensive, is plumbing new depths in ridiculousness and does indeed seem worried. I wonder why?

        The fact is, that some people involved with the shooting industry are so used to lying and law-breaking, they just don’t know any other way.

        Well done RPS for bringing this issue to the general public.

      3. To compare these two circumstances is ludicrous! The supermarkets were selling horsemeat advertised as something else, the grouse are being marketed as grouse! Nobody is going to unwittingly eat what they don’t intend to!

        I’m not concerned in the slightest about what they might find, the supply and marketing of game is produced at a very high standard. I’m am however, angered at the major push by many supporters of this website to discredit this product and force M+S to remove it from their shelves. If this isn’t political bully boy tactics I don’t know what is!

        1. Ah Grouseman, you’re (deliberately?) missing the point. Nobody is suggesting that grouse aren’t grouse – what we’re questioning is whether these are grouse sourced from ‘well-managed’ grouse moors and that these particular grouse moors have healthy, unpersecuted raptor populations. The connection between the two situations is obvious – it’s all about whether a retailer has deliberately or recklessly provided the consumer with misleading information about a food product.

          It may turn out that these particular grouse moors ARE ‘well-managed’ (whatever that means) and that they DO have healthy, unpersecuted raptor populations, but M&S has refused to identify them so it is perfectly reasonable, and legitimate, given the grouse moors happen to be located in the UK’s worst raptor persecution hotspot, for us to ask M&S to substantiate their environmental claims about this product.

          M&S has chosen to ignore our requests, so we’ve simply asked the regulatory body, Trading Standards, to ask them on our behalf.

  2. Grouseman, M & S simply had to inform those who asked, where they sourced their from grouse. A perfectly normal request. I didn’t think there would be an issue. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so naïve, for now I have say I am beginning to wonder if M & S have something to hide.

  3. I wrote to Damian Carrington of the Guardian who is pretty good on environmental matters. Unfortunately he hasn’t replied. Does RPS automatically send out press releases?

    [Ed: Hi Prasad. No, we don’t send out press releases but a number of regional and national journalists do subscribe to our blog]

  4. Raptor persecution scotland – i have a question,

    I’m the last 5 years how many CONFIRMED and I stress the word comfirmed cases of raptor persecution have there been in Yorkshire?

    I amazes me that your prejudice towards the game shooting industry is so strong that you object to the sale of game in supermarkets, but I must say I am not surprised, you are after all the same as most extremist groups,

    1. Perhaps you missed the published reports that demonstrate Yorkshire is one of, if not THE worst raptor persecution hotspots in the UK? You really should try to keep up.

      Here are some data that you seem to have conveniently forgotten:

      At least 20 birds of prey illegally poisoned, trapped or shot in Yorkshire between 2007-2011 (and that’s just the REPORTED incidents). This figure includes 10 poisoned red kites, 4 poisoned buzzards, 2 shot red kites, 2 shot buzzards, 1 shot kestrel and 1 trapped sparrowhawk. In addition there were at least 4 incidents of poisoned baits and a number of dogs were also poisoned.

      2012 figures not yet published but will be soon, and will include the shot hen harrier Bowland Betty.

      Oh, and for the record, we haven’t objected to game being sold in supermarkets. What we’re querying is whether the environmental claims made by the retailer about this particular product are justified.

  5. I Know that you raised the issue of lead contamination…but what about food standards in general? The bleeding bird falls to the ground (festering with germs), its then picked up by a dog (gets covered in saliva festering with worms and germs etc). It then gets bundled up with other dirty grouse, cross-contaminating the lot then thrown in the back of a dirty landrover…..and so on. Is this the standard of hygene that M&S normally insist on? It wouldn’t pass food standards.

  6. I don’t see that there is anything wrong with “blatent” attacks on driven grouse moors. I wouldn’t pretend to know how many people in Britain view grouse shooting as an outmoded vestige of feudal practices carried out by the (generally) rich and privileged few but I would be prepared to wager that the number is large. The shooting of game birds cannot be guaranteed as either humane or hygienic. If the people who enjoy taking life want to eat what they kill (thanks to successive governments who are too scared to address the issues for modern society) legally, then that is one thing – but to offer it up for retail sale in a previously respected outlet is another! What’s next, whale steaks? Sharks’s fin soup? Orangutang cutlets? Lark’s tongues in aspic?

    Personally, I make no bones about it. Killing wildlife (even keeper raised wildlife) is wrong on so many levels. The fact that organised shooting has a piss-poor reputation for looking out for the rest of nature is just an additional motivator.

    I use my real name to underwrite my convictions – I do not hide behind a pseudonym to spare my shame, Grouse man!

  7. John Thatcher:

    Was not game sold long before hermetically sealed packages came to stores? Did people suffer then?

    Most rural communities around the globe hunt in some shape or form, what’s different about the UK?

    Why make this a class issue?

    Halal slaughtering is hardly humane but its permitted in the UK?

    Why is wildlife different to farm animals? Would you be happy with rats in your house?

    The RPS site is run anonymously so why shouldn’t people respond anonymously?

    It appears that most objections here result from a point of envy rather than true conservation and are therefore worthy of little if any consideration.

    1. Whoever you are;

      Children were sent up chimneys a hundred years ago – as irrelevant to this debate as your “was not game sold….”

      Where birds are bred within heavily managed (and artificially manipulated) environments in order to blast them en-masse out of the sky is not hunting as might be done in the Matto Grosso of Brazil &c because that is largely for Subsistence hunting is acceptable, red grouse (and pheasant) shooting is much less so. The hunting that occurs on managed estates is about killing for pleasure and has nothing to do with putting food in the bellies of families that would otherwise starve. What you do is the equivalent of “shooting fish in a barrel”.

      Its a class issue because it is run by the remnants of the feudal hierarchy (or its’ modern corporate equivalent) to give the privileged few the opportunity to shoot things – NOT hunt things, there is little stalking or use of hunting skills involved. Its a shooting gallery run by the rich and privileged. If it weren’t run by, and for, the rich and privileged, then the police, the judiciary and the grey men of Whitehall would have ceased contributing to the concealment of the wildlife crimes that result from it long ago. Count your days – the future is coming when this particular hobby will follow hunting with dogs into the dustbin of history.

      Effectively, managed game shooting can be likened to the actions of the Maltese dirtbags who shoot anything that flies, or the Cypriot throwbacks who use mist nets & lime-sticks to catch passerines for expensive restaurants. These activities have no regard for the impact it has on the wild creatures who would naturally live and thrive in the environments that are denied to them by “hunting”; and the collateral damage to non target species is seriously harmful to natural balance. Sooner or later this will become a major political issue and the supporters of game shooting will prove to be very much in the minority.

      Please don’t try to justify it any further: Your arguments unravel very quickly and you are not clever enough to make a convincing case

      1. Again I am not defending shooting but there is growing and widespread public demand for game as a free range organic meat……which is worse……chicken out of a shed, cattle out of a field or pheasant out of a native woodland or grouse off a heather moorland?

        I just feel yours and others efforts would be better spent fighting a wider range of conservation issues rather than fighting a personal battle protecting a small selection of species purely because you feel that they are widely persecuted by the “feudal hierarchy”, whoever they may be.

        1. Why do you believe that commentators on this site are not involved in other conservation issues? Indeed, this site, in recent weeks, has hosted information on the badger cull, in which many commentators participated. The site has also blogged about farmers breaking the law, and of the problems of snaring, again in which many have commented on, so this would indicate that many are involved in other conservation issues.

          Furthermore, we are perfectly entitled to campaign against the widespread persecution of raptors. What else should we do? Should we just allow the persecution to go unchecked? Obviously, there are many involved with the shooting industry that would like persecution incidents to remain unpublicised or go without any investigation, allowing estates to increase their illegal activities, but that’s not going to happen. Are you suggesting we ignore the nationwide issue of raptor persecution?

          And in response to your food question, the worst of the four is easily the pheasant. The scale of pheasant introductions as it stands, is an ecological disaster.

  8. By the way,

    The RSPB is not run by anonymous people; anyone with a little nous can look on their website (or even in their quarterly magazine) to discover the names of the officers of the Society – the ones who take responsibility for what they do! You will not see anyone from the RSPB hiding behind a pseudonym!

    1. I am not trying to defend shooting – I was trying to understand whether you are arguing from a class orientated rather than conservation orientated aspect and you have confirmed that it is a class. My interest is in upland conservation, an area in which I’m actively involved. It just frustrates me that the old class chestnut is wheeled out time and again to try and thwart the good work done by so many.

      Do I take it then that RPS is run by the RSPB? If so, it should be openly stated.

  9. I am certainly not class orientated and believe, together with driven grouse shooting, that it belongs back in the 19th century.
    I am 100% against driven grouse shooting, I can perhaps understand someone hunting bears in the forests of Minnesota, there is a certain skill and danger to it, although I most certainly don’t support it.
    I cannot see any sport in shooting grouse, they are bred in vast quantities to the detriment of our native wildlife (birds of prey, wildcats, foxes etc., etc., etc.) the burning of the uplands creates ugly scars on the landscape which are a true eyesore, they are basically an unproductive desert.
    What ‘sport’ is there in 1000’s of birds being driven into the direction of static gunmen?

    Just because I don’t understand or enjoy the point of doing it, you could argue that others have just as much right to do so, that point of view might be valid, IF they didn’t break the laws of the land and kill OUR wildlife.

  10. Mea Culpa, I did not explain myself well enough: This IS a class issue insofar as the “ownership” of vast amounts of British upland is kept in the hands of a few privileged persons who came by that ownership because they controlled society, wealth and politics before the modern era and continue to hang onto it for their own pleasures against any rational understanding. The fact that they manage it in a way that seriously unsupportive of native wildlife is a side issue – because they have the “right” to use it for their own ends. That the judiciary and police seem unable to enforce statutory instruments which were enacted to protect native wildlife, in the face of convincing evidence that naturally predatory species are being illegally persecuted, is a class issue. If someone were to trespass on those moors, you can bet your life Mr Plod would be on-site in minutes to apprehend the intruder.

    The native predators are “controlled” in order to prevent them taking a share of the vastly unnatural numbers of grouse which are artificially nurtured on the estates to optimise the satisfaction of blood lust amongst the (generally) privileged, wealthy few who want to kill them (and eat them)(?) This inevitably makes it a class issue. And if you think that Marks and Spencer are attempting to seduce a new customer base amongst the lower orders with this marketing ploy as a means of demonstrating how classless the shooting and eating of Red Grouse is, you are deluded. Their intended customers are, in fact, the privileged few who are wealthy enough to live in the catchment area of M&S’s London branches where these time honoured badges of privilege (shot game) will be peddled. But it is because of class issues that I am railing against this. It is because it is wrong!

    I am against the mismanagement of huge swathes of our countryside for the benefit of only a significantly tiny proportion of our population and the concomitantly huge influence those privileged few have on the long-term conservation of our native species. Notwithstanding that they, and their cowardly minions, who are allowed to get away with owning firearms (in a society where firearms are singularly inappropriate) ejaculate toxic lead into the landscape (i.e. the ecosystem) and additionally continue to use illegal poisons to further reduce, to the point of extinction, the remnants of raptor populations which have been decimated in the name of sport!

    They clearly have no powers of reason by which the inevitable truth may be observed. This activity is unsustainable, goes against the growing public will and creates an image of a class divide which will undoubtedly lead to political conflict that the privileged few will not win.

    If you want to cling to the misapprehension this is ALL about class, you will continue to identify yourself as yet another idiot who is blinkered by wrong thinking against understanding the wider picture!

    I won’t respond again to your obtuse protestations – you can take a horse to water……………

    1. I am glad you responded on this one, even if you don’t intend to respond to me again.

      In the Scottish context (this being a Scottish based blog) the average duration of ownership of an estate is 13 years. The majority have changed hands countless times since 1900 and have been purchased by successful people of the time who come from a variety of different backgrounds, digger drivers and miners to electricians and trawler men are those that I have most commonly come across. Throughout history mankind has displayed a desire to own land whenever he can afford it and the Scottish context is by no means new or unique.

      You have a right to use your house as you see fit whereas an landowner is managing his property under the scrutiny of the Scottish Government, SNH, SEPA, RSPB and any other statutory bodies who wish to take an interest. That aside, they inevitably employ people, not just gamekeepers and purchase goods and services from the local economy. They probably form the backbone of many rural and fragile communities in the Highlands.

      Scotland also has the SOAC so there is a complete right to roam outside the curtiledge of a residential property. There is seldom if any conflict on this.

      The problem is that as I see it the majority of subscribers to this site class all landowners as criminals. I am not denying that crimes do not happen, there is an element of mankind that will always commit, sometimes without consideration. However, we now have the WANE Act, not to mention previous legislation and the incidence of offences is dropping compared to what may have been the case 30 years ago. The majority of landowners are aware of the legislation and do abide by it so before you say this is another obtuse protestation or misapprehension just look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself whether you have ever broken the law in any shape or form? If you have never broken the speed limit carry on with your class war against the successful elements of society, if you have think carefully before protesting in public.

      1. Three points that I feel I must address;

        “You have a right to use your house as you see fit whereas an landowner is managing his property under the scrutiny of the Scottish Government, SNH, SEPA, RSPB and any other statutory bodies who wish to take an interest.”

        This is a wholly misleading statement. Householders across the land are regulated by the laws of the land. For example, it is illegal to grow or sell drugs, to distil whisky, to murder people, etc, etc. We are all bound by the laws of the land, but sadly the majority of game estates refuse to accept this.

        “The problem is that as I see it the majority of subscribers to this site class all landowners as criminals.”

        Again, this is an inaccurate belief. In theory, a landowner could mean a homeowner, a farmer or other small-scale landworker. To suggest that the majority of site users think in this way is inappropriate and wrong. However, people on this site are against the majority of game estates that illegally persecute raptors and other predators.

        The last point I would like to address is your issue on speeding. I will agree that most, if not all drivers have exceeded the speed limit at some stage, but many of these instances will have been accidental. Exceeding the speed limit by 1mph is hardly going to have a negative impact on anything or anyone, but deliberately laying out illegal traps and poisons, deliberately destroying eggs and nests and deliberately bludgeoning and shooting raptors and other predators is having a negative impact in our countryside and is having a negative impact on many individuals.

  11. Couple of (legal) pointers – the Sale of Goods and Supply of Goods and Services acts are civil legislation – TS can’t/won’t investigate under either. The most you can do is ask for your money back or damamges for an y loss ude to the goods not being as described.

    What you do want action against is Section15 of the Food Safety Act 1990 (Food Falsely Described) – this is a criminal statute which is investigated by Environmental Health in Scotland and a mix of EH and TS in England; Or possibly Reg 5 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Practices Regulations.

    [Ed: Thanks – very helpful!]

  12. Notice the latest edition of the RSPB magazine (Nature’s Home) is heavily publicising the issues of our country’s grouse moor “farms” – clearly spelling out the big differences between driven grouse shooting and walked up grouse shooting. A good article by Simon Barnes too telling the 1.1 million members how it is: that our countryside’s biodiversity in upland areas is getting a hammering by the elitist few, hell-bent on killing as many grouse as they can for fun. After reading these absorbing articles a thought occurred to me that maybe it’s time for a cross-organisations national campaign to alienate establishments/ shops selling grouse obtained from driven grouse shooting sources. Perhaps there are ethical sources which can be promoted instead – akin to the campaign to promote Tuna fished by pole vs catch nets. Maybe for starters someone walking the streets outside M&S dressed in a grouse costume with a bill board! (the Famous Grouse whisky people must have a costume to borrow!) But in all seriousness I think a national campaign is something which would resonate with the general public if done in the right way, and perhaps the time is right now.

    If driven grouse shooting is marginalised by various UK conservation organisations and the media, and a big light is shone onto this practice & all it’s dark ways, then the general public awareness and their anticipated outrage should put even more pressure on our politicians (and M&S!) to act and for this industry to clean up its act or be closed down for good.

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