High risk of eating contaminated red grouse after inadequate safety checks

Intensive grouse moor management not only has catastrophic consequences for the environment (and especially for raptors), but the end product carries serious public health risks, too.

A couple of years ago we wrote a blog about the use of medicated grit to dose red grouse with a parasitic wormer drug called Flubendazole.

There is a statutory requirement to remove veterinary drug residues from food destined for human consumption no later than 28 days before the food is available for sale.

We’d learned that the use of medicated grit on grouse moors was largely unregulated (surprise!), that some grouse moor managers were using a super-strength drug that was 10 times, and sometimes 20 times, the strength permitted for use in the UK, and, most incredibly, that the Government’s statutory agency (Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)) responsible for monitoring meat to ensure harmful drugs are not entering the human food chain, had not ever tested a single red grouse for residues of Flubendazole because, staff said, they didn’t know where to find dead red grouse (see here).

Photo of a medicated grit tray on a Yorkshire grouse moor, by Ruth Tingay

Prompted by our investigation, the VMD said it would begin to screen recently shot red grouse for veterinary drug residues in 2016, but that VMD staff wouldn’t visit grouse moors to examine whether medicated grit had been withdrawn within the statutory 28-day period because that was beyond their remit. Instead, they would rely on the grouse moor managers to act within the law (ha!).

We followed up on the new testing regime and in 2016 we learned that the VMD had managed to screen a pathetic total of six (yes, six!) red grouse in the whole of the UK (4 in England, 2 in Scotland), out of a conservatively estimated 700,000 shot birds.

Last month, at the end of the 2017 grouse shooting season, we asked the VMD how many red grouse they’d managed to test for veterinary residues in 2017. Here’s their response:

Are they taking the piss? Eight red grouse tested in the whole of the UK? That’s hardly reassuring for consumers, is it?

And once again, the VMD claims not to know the origin of the birds it tested. Talk about incompetent. What if one of those birds had tested positive for residues of Flubendazole? The VMD wouldn’t have been able to take follow-up action because they wouldn’t have known the name of the grouse moor on which the bird had been shot!

So, yet another reason not to risk your health by eating potentially contaminated red grouse. Not only might it contain unknown quantities of the anti-parasitic worming drug Flubendazole, it might also contain:

  • Excessive amounts of toxic poisonous lead (over 100 times the lead levels that would be legal for other meat – see here)
  • Unknown quantities of the veterinary drug Levamisole hydrochloride (also used in chemotherapy treatment for humans with colon cancer – see here)
  • Unknown quantities of the pesticide Permethrin (used topically to treat scabies and pubic lice; probably not that great to ingest – see here)
  • There’s also a high risk the grouse will be diseased with Cryptosporidiosis (see here).

Two shot red grouse ready for cooking, yum yum. Photo by Ruth Tingay

Time for the filthy grouse shooting industry to be better regulated? God, it’s well overdue. You can sign this new petition calling for the introduction of a licensing scheme for driven grouse moors, here.

If you think licensing wouldn’t go far enough, you can also sign this new petition calling for a total ban on driven grouse shooting, here.

These two petitions apply only to England. The Scottish Government is way ahead of the Westminster Government on this issue and an independent review of grouse moor management practices has just begun, and many of us anticipate that it will result in the almost inevitable conclusion that licensing needs to be introduced. We know the review group will be examining the use of medicated grit as part of its remit, and we expect the group to find these latest results from the VMD’s inadequate testing regime to be of great interest.

17 thoughts on “High risk of eating contaminated red grouse after inadequate safety checks”

  1. At the risk of giving you even more work , would it not be possible have grouse tested by a recognised independent lab and raise the money through a crowdfunding appeal , or am i missing something obvious?

  2. It’s not possible from the response to determine exactly what the carcasses were “compliant” with. Do you folks,or anyone else with knowledge of the procedures, know?

    1. The information is useless if we do not know what substances were tested for. Albeit that the samples were collected over a range of dates, was the analysis of them all carried out at the same time and under the same controlled conditions? The Fera testing of dead raptors for suspected poisons is a lengthy and expensive process. I would imagine that the same would apply to having these grouse properly tested. Ideally we would need to know where and when it was undertaken.

  3. On the topic of contamination, I’ve asked this question before and searched for an answer, but can’t find one. Following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, several large areas of the UK became heavily contaminated with toxic nuclear radiation. Some of the worst affected zones included grouse moors, especially in southern Scotland and northern England. As a result, sheep were tested and most of the flocks in these areas were not permitted to enter the food chain. At the time and for many years thereafter, controversy arose because deer were exempted from the ban, despite their meat containing far higher levels of radiation than sheep. This was explained by the fact that deer ate more heather, which was particularly prone to absorbing the radiation from the soil, but no-one could explain why deer were not banned from entering the food chain. Yet sheep, which primarily ate grasses, were banned despite lower radiation levels. I recall no warnings of any other animal which lived on grouse moors, fed on heather, and was entering the food chain. Let’s try and think of one – that’s easy, Red Grouse! Only a few years ago, some sheep flocks, mainly in southwest Scotland, were still restricted due to ongoing testing revealing continued high levels of radiation. My unanswered question is – have Red Grouse destined for the food chain ever been tested for the after effects of the Chernobyl disaster? I’m unaware of the current situation regarding sheep or deer. Personally I wouldn’t consume Red Grouse for ethical reasons, but with the added factors of medicated grit, lead contamination and the possibility of toxic radiation, I can’t understand why anyone would touch them!

    1. Ian, according to R. Moss and A.D. Horrill. 1996. Metabolism of radiocaesium in red grouse. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, Volume 33, Issue 1, Pages 49-62. doi.org/10.1016/0265-931X(95)00072-I

      activity concentrations of radiocaesium in breast muscles of 11 wild red grouse from shoots at Moorhouse (OS map reference NY 757328) were approximately the same as those in their fresh food (almost entirely heather). Several of these were over 1000 Bq kg−1, the “safe“ limit for sheep meat.
      Our suggestion that “the sampling of birds shot for sport could form an efficient means of monitoring radiocaesium levels in heather-dominated uplands in the UK.” was never adopted.

  4. RPUK – this notion that they can’t trace the farms is junk! If that’s correct, then the FSA need to be informed because meat needs to be traceable.

    The FSA brought out a guide for the game industry and it was revised in 2015. The guide is called The Wild Game Guide. It’s a bit of a slight to read but might be worth it! Unfortunately it’s a PDF document so I can’t cut n paste.

    p45 examines traceability issues and the legislation relating to it.

    “Traceability is about being able to identify suppliers and customers. The requirements of Articles 14 and 19 of Regulation 178/2002 apply to all FBO (Food Business Operator), including primary producers, hunters and retailers and cover the whole food chain, including game chicks and their feed. The Regulation uses the principle of “one step back and one step forward” so that food can be traced along the supply chain. Additionally, Regulation 1931/2011 provides for traceability for products of animal origin. This covers all aspects of the food chain up until the point of sale. FBO’s, primary producers, hunters and retailers must pass the following information onto the next FBO and have it available for the competent authority on demand:

    Accurate description of the food
    Name and address of FBO dispatching food
    Name and address of consigner (if different)
    Name and address of FBO receiving the food
    Name and address of consigner (if different)
    Reference identifying lot, batch or consignment
    Date of dispatch

    46 … Copies of invoices and a game book or something similar may be sufficient, but the key information that needs to be recorded is the name and address of the supplier and the consumer and the date, nature and volume of the products supplied.”

    And what’s this stuff about the grouse being from farms and the carcases being tested at a slaughterhouses? Whatever the origin, they should be able to find out the origin of the farms which supplied those birds!

    I wasn’t aware of grouse farms, but, if the carcases were from farms, I wonder if they have obtained any representative samples of whatever they’ve tested for from grouse shooting estates.

    1. Yes, we’re well aware that meat needs to be traceable.

      Don’t be misled by the VMD’s strange terminology of ‘slaughterhouses’ and ‘grouse farms’ – they’re simply applying the terminology they use for their routine testing of cattle etc to theie testing of gamebirds.

      For ‘slaughterhouse’ read ‘game processing factory’ and for ‘grouse farm’ read ‘grouse moor’.

      1. Non the less there is nothing in the VMD response which gives credibility to anything which they purport in their reply. Personally, in the current climate, I cannot believe that they have tested, that they know what they tested if they have tested, nor the origin of what they tested. I similarly have doubts that their testing if applied would have identified key substances. Had they done a proper job I feel sure that they would have provided more and specific detail in order to validate their response.

        1. I also have severe doubts about what they have tested for.
          The lack of detail is highly suspicious (unless RPUK knows more).
          On Mull we have had a taste of something similar concerning the government agency testing of drinking water because there were plans to use neonics on community forests (which it looks like we might have stopped). We had meetings with SEPA (and every government agency you could imagine) who told us that pesticides aren’t tested for. There isn’t even a limit for specific pesticides just and overall limit so there is no allowance for different toxicities between chemicals.
          They looked very worried when our SMP started pushing for specific pesticide tests. Presumably it would open up massive expensive can of worms.
          I know this is different, one is food and the other is water but without more details i don’t trust them an inch.

            1. Notice how may samples were taken for 1 non-compliance to show in these meats.
              Calf Kidney: 88
              Cattle Kidney: 1195
              Cattle Liver: 420
              Sheep Kidney: 2609
              Sheep Liver: 562

  5. Just for info – for anyone who visits grouse moors and keeps seeing white sticks on grouse moors – those indicate where the medicated grit is. Up where I used to go, they didn’t always use trays so the opportunity for the spread of disease and contamination of the surrounding environment was even greater.

  6. I tried to sign the petition to stop grouse shooting altogether, was successful except the confirmation email has never arrived. Anyone else had this issue ?

    1. Yes, Piper – I had this problem. I tried 3 or 4 time without success with an email address that I had used successfully for other Govt. petitions. In the end I had to use my other email address and that worked. I had just moved and wondered if a change of postcode was the problem. I just wasn’t getting the confirmation emails and they weren’t in the junk or spam boxes.

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