If you’d been at the Royal Highland Show last week you might have seen this SNH poster. You might also have seen Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod posing in front of it.
What is it?
It’s part of an SNH campaign called Scotland’s Natural Larder, being run jointly with BASC Scotland, and coincides with the Scottish Government’s Year of Food & Drink.
According to an article in SNH’s latest magazine (The Nature of Scotland, Spring/Summer 2015, page 10):
“The aim of Scotland’s Natural Larder project is to encourage people to eat natural produce that has been sustainably harvested or hunted” and “A key focus is helping people understand the close links between the health of the environment and sustainable management“.
According to SNH, ‘Game meat is healthy, natural and delicious’ (see here).
According to BASC, ‘Game meat is healthy, sustainable and delicious’ (see here).
So the key words being bandied about by the Government’s statutory nature conservation agency (as well as by BASC, which is less surprising) about shot red grouse (look at the poster) is that they are ‘healthy’, ‘natural’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘delicious’.
Forget about the word ‘delicious’ because whether grouse tastes delicious or not is entirely subjective and pretty irrelevant. But what about those other words? ‘Healthy’, ‘natural’ and ‘sustainable’? Really? Who are they trying to kid? How about ‘unhealthy’, ‘unnatural’ and ‘unsustainable’?
Red grouse are shot with lead ammunition. Lead is a poison. Lead is highly toxic to humans. The health risk of lead poisoning has been well-documented and has resulted in the removal of lead from petrol, paint, fishing weights and water pipes. In 2012, the Food Standards Agency published guidance on eating game shot with lead ammunition:
“The Food Standards Agency is advising people that eating lead-shot game on a frequent basis can expose them to potentially harmful levels of lead. The FSA’s advice is that frequent consumers of lead-shot game should eat less of this type of meat” (see here, here and particularly here).
Red grouse on intensively managed driven grouse moors are also routinely exposed to chemicals in the form of medicated grit. The chemicals in this grit are used to kill the parasitic strongyle worm. This drug is highly persistent, according to SLE (see here). Moorland managers are advised to remove the medicated grit one month before the start of the grouse-shooting season. Who decided one month was a suitable period of time for withdrawal and who monitors whether the medicated grit is actually being withdrawn at that time? Is there any information about the effect on humans from eating red grouse that have residual levels of medicated grit still in their bodies?
There’s also a new disease spreading through red grouse populations – ‘respiratory cryptosporidiosis’, also known as ‘bulgy eye’. Apparently the protozoan responsible isn’t known to be infectious to humans (see here) and a prominent figure from the grouse-shooting industry claims ‘grouse are perfectly safe to eat if they are diseased [with bulgy eye]’ (see here). Hmm, sounds yummy. Wonder what his medical qualifications are?
Does any of this convince you that eating red grouse is a ‘healthy’ option?
Red grouse is frequently described as ‘natural’ by those with a vested interest in driven grouse shooting. It might be considered ‘natural’ if it has been killed by walked-up shooting but what about the grouse that have been killed by driven grouse shooting? Intensively managed driven grouse moors are anything but natural. Red grouse are found in artificially-high densities on these moors as a result of several unnatural management techniques, including the use of medicated grit (see above), the frequent burning of heather (see here for the environmental damage caused by this practice), the [legal] and unregulated annual mass slaughter of predators (foxes, stoats, weasels, corvids) and mountain hares, not to mention, of course, the widespread illegal killing of raptors.
What’s ‘natural’ about red grouse that have been shot on an intensively driven grouse moor?
Concerns over the unsustainability of driven grouse shooting are growing – so much so that Marks & Spencer removed red grouse from sale last year (see here) because they weren’t able to guarantee their grouse had come from a responsible, sustainable source. There are plenty of other concerns, too (see here for a good overview).
So how does SNH justify its claim that red grouse have been ‘sustainably’ harvested?
What on earth is SNH playing at? Why is this statutory conservation agency actively promoting an industry with such shocking ecological credentials and claiming that eating this product (red grouse) is good for us and good for the environment? Let’s ask them. Emails to SNH Chief Executive Susan Davies: email@example.com
Here’s the Environment Minister posing in front of THAT poster: