Is Sainsbury’s selling toxic gamebirds, without warning the public?

Supermarket Sainsbury’s has a new product on sale this autumn – a mixed game casserole, which apparently is made of 50% venison and 50% pheasant and red legged partridge:

[All photos by Ruth Tingay]

It’s being produced by a company called Holme Farm Venison, a company based in North Yorkshire that specialises in venison but also sells gamebirds.

According to the packaging, this product is ‘endorsed’ (ahem) by the British Game Alliance (BGA), whose ‘kitemark’ is stamped on the front:

Some of you may remember the British Game Alliance. It was created a couple of years ago as ‘the official marketing board for the UK game industry’ and claims on its website, ‘Through our ‘British Game’ assurance scheme we can ensure the provenance of our game meets rigorous and ethical standards‘.

Sounds good, right? Well, it does until you start digging in to the details – see here and here for earlier blogs about the BGA and some of its, let’s call them ‘interesting’, members.

It seems that accuracy and transparency is still an issue for the BGA – where it previously had listed some of its so-called ‘accredited’ members, it has now removed the list from the website:

However, all is not lost if you know where to look. Here’s an example of the BGA logo being advertised on the Guns on Pegs website. This screengrab is the entry for the Bransdale Estate in North Yorkshire, where a police investigation is on-going after the discovery earlier this year of five dead buzzards shoved under a rock, four of them confirmed shot (here) –

It’d be interesting to know whether Sainsbury’s has taken the BGA ‘assurance’ at face value or whether it has actually demanded transparency from its supplier, Holme Farm Venison, and asked from which estates, exactly, it has sourced the pheasants and partridge for this new game casserole.

According to a press release from the BGA last week (see here), the BGA ‘stamp of assurance gives consumers confidence in the traceability, sustainability and quality of the game they eat‘. Really? Well then Sainsbury’s will have no trouble telling its customers all about the exact provenance of these gamebirds.

Which is just as well, because Holme Farm Venison seems a little bit confused about where they’ve come from. Its website first says “all its game products are supplied from our local gamekeeper” (ah, isn’t that all homely and lovely):

But when you actually look at the details of its gamebird products (pheasants and red legged partridge) it says they are supplied by a ‘fully licensed game supplier’:

Who’s that, then? And can they tell us the names of the estates from where these gamebirds have been shot? According to the BGA press release ‘an estimated half a million birds will find their way in to this product‘ – that’s one very busy gamekeeper! The packaging says the birds have been sourced from ‘Traditional UK Estates’ – who’s that?

And talking of shot……lead shot….toxic lead shot…..have these pheasants and partridge been shot with toxic lead ammunition? And if so, how is Sainsbury’s warning its customers that there is no safe level of lead consumption and that consuming lead is especially harmful to children and pregnant women?

Here’s what it says on the packaging:

Our game is wild, and whilst every effort is made to remove shot from the meat, please be aware, some may remain“.

That’s quite a statement. It doesn’t mention that those ‘wild’ gamebirds have probably been bred, pumped with antibiotics and released in to the British countryside to be shot with toxic lead ammunition. It doesn’t even mention lead! Perhaps they haven’t been shot with toxic lead ammunition after all?

Shall we ask Sainsbury’s? There’s a slogan on Sainsbury’s website that says, ‘We want to be the UK’s most trusted retailer’. Well then there’ll be no problem answering questions about the provenance of these gamebirds and whether they contain toxic lead ammunition, will there?

Emails to: press_office@sainsburys.co.uk

UPDATE 3 November 2020: Sainsbury’s not alerting customers to health risk of eating toxic gamebirds (here)

UPDATE 23 November 2020: Sainsbury’s refuses to address concerns about selling potentially toxic gamebirds (here)

43 thoughts on “Is Sainsbury’s selling toxic gamebirds, without warning the public?”

  1. This is shocking information. I tried emailing Sainsbury but looks as though Sainsburys isn’t at home. Got this message. But I will write to them.

    Server-12.tower-261.messagelabs.com rejected your message to the following email addresses:

    customer.services@sainsburys.co.uk (customer.services@sainsburys.co.uk)
    Your message couldn’t be delivered. It appears that the email address you sent your message to wasn’t found at the destination domain.

    1. The question asked in the Header statement to this article questions whether Sainsburys are warning their customers of the possibility that the product may contain lead shot. Then the article offers this quote and direct from the Sainsbury sheet;

      “Our game is wild, and whilst every effort is made to remove shot from the meat, please be aware, some may remain“.

      I wonder at the point to asking a question – and then answering it in the affirmative.

      1. To me, it’s because the packet says “shot”. The packet doesn’t say if it is (toxic) LEAD shot. A lot of people will be under the illusion that surely it can’t be lead shot that is still used in 2020.

      2. Perdix,

        So you have difficulty reading details then? That seems to be the case as the point being made is that nowhere does it mention lead shot! Its only one word I know but it is a crucial word in this context.

        You seem to think that the average customer in Sainsbury’s would be aware that lead shot is used to kill game, but even if that were the case, surely any food product that might contain lead should have a clear label warning the consumer that this the case?

      3. I think you understand perfectly well Perdix. The warning, such as it is, on the Sainsbury’s packaging does not give any hint that the shot is toxic and could well be understood by anyone who is not well informed on the issue as saying not much more than “be careful you don’t break a tooth on a piece of shot that has slipped through the process”. The warning does not come anywhere close to reflecting the guidance on lead in game given by the Food Standards Agency (https://www.food.gov.uk/safety-hygiene/lead-shot-game). So the answer to the question posed by the headline to this post is clearly “no they are not warning customers that the product is potentially toxic”.

      4. I think you may have missed the point – the fact that it may be lead shot, and almost certainly is, could result In Sainsbury opting to take it off the shelves – not that they wouldn’t have known that previously – but that the supplier may be limited in the level of indemnity they can offer to Sainsbury to relieve the retailer of liability. That could turn out to be the issue – and one that no-one could run away from.

  2. “Our Game is wild” Wild! haha what bollox. I have old hybrid laying hens wilder than most reared pheasants. And the venison, quite possibly (I will see if I can find out later) from a walled-in park Fallow herd or Reds fed pellets from the back of a quad in winter…most sheep grazing the commons are far wilder!

  3. I could not find an email for Sainsbury but I have contacted them by Facebook Messenger to ask if they can assure the public that the product has not been contaminated by lead.

  4. Yes, doesn’t look like email is an option. Have used Twitter messenger, but that doesn’t seem exactly ‘live’!

    1. Had a reply on Twitter..”Hey Mairi, thanks for getting in touch. All information we have available regarding the product is the one on the packaging and our website. ” Good enough? I think not!

  5. I remember when visiting Robert Fuller’s studio last year at Thixendale, East Yorkshire, I drove past a game bird farm with thousands of Red Legged Partridges in runs. Some had been released and were running up and down the road not knowing what to do. Others were squashed on the road.
    Earlier this year I noticed the pens had been replaced with cages. Unfortunately with the Coronavirus pandemic it isn’t wise to travel too far from one’s home so no new news at this time.

  6. Producer-led accreditation schemes are generally not worth the paper they are written on. Invariably they stop, dodge and weave around the real crunch issues.

    Accreditation schemes are only worth it where they have wide stakeholder input – for example, the Forestry Stewardship Council which has formalised input from producers, environmentalists and social -everyone doesn’t get what they want all the time but equally producers can’t get away with the sort of glaring ommissions you’ve highlighted here.

  7. The Email address bounces for me too! have they like many companies stopped using email for customer services I wonder.

    1. Good move, Paul.
      Very important to get lots of people asking questions. Suspicion of contamination, from any source, in food soon gets too hot for retailers. Reputations are at risk.
      The general public most certainly are very averse to food that may be detrimental or unpleasant.

  8. Email enquiry sent to CEO and press office (thanks for the addresses). Will update IF I get an answer!
    Terry Mullen

  9. Jonathan Wallace’s post at 1245 contains a highly pertinent point that should never be overlooked:-

    “The warning does not come anywhere close to reflecting the guidance on lead in game given by the Food Standards Agency (https://www.food.gov.uk/safety-hygiene/lead-shot-game). So the answer to the question posed by the headline to this post is clearly “no they are not warning customers that the product is potentially toxic”.”

    The hazard clearly goes beyond that posed by consumers finding lead shot in food. What is being emphasised by the Food Standards Agency is the risk of toxicity from lead having BEEN in the meat. The removal of lead pellets prior to consumption does not remove any toxicity that has already taken place.

  10. It will be interesting to see how long Sainsbury’s or other supermarkets offer game for sale.

    I note this Diced Game Casserole Mix isn’t a Sainsury’s own brand product. The question Sainsury’s must answer is whether when their buyers sourced the product from HFV, whether the question as to the type of shot used to kill the game was asked? And what enquiries were made as to whether this was lead shot or an alternative?
    Are they potentially putting customers health at risk?

    The World Health Organisation state the following regarding lead:-

    “Lead is a toxic metal whose widespread use has caused extensive environmental contamination and health problems in many parts of the world. It is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems. Children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead, and even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and in some cases irreversible neurological damage.”

    Simply to state on the label -“-every effort is made to remove shot from the meat, please be aware some may remain” really doesn’t inform consumers on the type of shot and what metal or other substance that shot contains, and more importantly -what may be the consequences of ingestion.

    Therefore if lead shot was used- it is therefore concerning that the label on the packaging does not warn consumers that the product may be contaminated with lead, especially as according to WHO this is a toxic substance.

    This missing label information is possibly something the Food Standards Agency or local Trading standards may have an interest in.

    If people want to buy game, that’s fine, but if the meat potentially contains lead shot, then that is something they should be made aware of so they can make an informed choice at the time of purchase.

  11. Two points. First, can it not be purchased from a store and then x-rayed for fragments? Worked last time. I would be happy to help fund that. Second, is it actually even legal to sell meat with known contamination without telling the customers, so they can make an informed choice? Isn’t that what happens when they sell cigarettes?
    After all, they warn people when things contain nuts.

    1. Isn’t this the sort of testing that the Food Standards Agency should be doing? Especially now grouse moor owner Heather Hancock is not in charge and has moved on.

    2. Fragments would probably show on X-rays, but the toxicity caused by lead having been in contact with the meat at some time would not.

  12. Paul, thanks for Simon Robert’s address I have written to him and the press office and so far no bounce back.

  13. I see on the label for the Diced Game Casserole Mix that it says “Ideal for a healthy casserole or game pie”. What is healthy about eating dead deer from farms (see the HFV website where they state that they use farmed venison from fallow and red deer)? And what is healthy about consuming all the chemicals that the game birds are fed on? And then there are the health risks from lead contamination. Surely the labelling on this deadly cocktail is a breach of the advertising laws?

  14. Just received the following “holding” reply from Sainsbury’s “Thank you for your email which has been received into our Executive Office. I have been asked to look into your concerns and respond on Simon’s behalf.

    As the Holme Farm Mixed Game Casserole is not a Sainsbury’s branded product, I have contacted the manufactures to obtain some more information on the questions which you have asked.

    As soon as I receive a response, I will be back in contact with further information for you.”

    1. I have received a fuller reply from Sainsbury’s trying to distance themselves from the issue. See below:-

      Thank you for your recent e-mail received by Simon Roberts. He has has me to personally respond to you on his behalf.

      The product you have enquired about is a branded product (not Sainsburys own brand) and we would encourage any further questions to be directed to Holme Farmed Venison, through their customer helpline.

      The Branded Holme Farm Venison (HFV) game products are assured by the British Game Alliance (BGA). The British Game Alliance independently audits all shoots participating in the accreditation, ensuring that they are all compliant with the requirements.

      Lead shot is being phased out, but is still in use, however HFV products only select from meat that has no shot in it. Initially, visually inspected and then metal detected at the game processor and again visually inspected in the final pack. There are additional warnings on pack that refers to shot to ensure customers are aware.

      Kind Regards,

      Katie Powell | Executive Office
      J Sainsbury plc | 33 Holborn | London EC1N 2HT
      Email: katie.powell@sainsburys.co.uk

  15. This is the reply from Sainsbury. They haven’t addressed either of the issues that I raised i.e. provenance and lead warnings.

    Dear Ms Bliss

    Thank you for your enquiry, the product you have enquired about is a branded product (not Sainsburys own brand) and we would encourage any further questions to be directed to Holme Farmed Vension, through their customer helpline.

    The Branded Holme Farm Vension (HFV) game products are assured by the British Game Alliance (BGA). The British Game Alliance independently audits all shoots participating in the accreditation, ensuring that they are all compliant with the requirements.

    Lead shot is being phased out, but is still in use, however HFV products only select from meat that has no shot in it. Initially, visually inspected and then metal detected at the game processor and again visually inspected in the final pack. There are additional warnings on pack that refers to shot to ensure customers are aware

    Kind Regards

    Luke McCabe | Executive Office
    J Sainsbury plc | 33 Holborn | London EC1N 2HT
    Luke.mccabe@sainsburys.co.uk | 0207 6958900
    image

    This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. If you have received this email in error please notify the system manager (postmaster@sainsburys.co.uk) and delete it from your system.

    Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd (3261722 England)
    Registered Offices: 33 Holborn, London, EC1N 2HT

    Sainsbury’s Argos is a trading name of both:
    1) Argos Limited, Registered office: 489-499 Avebury Boulevard, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, MK9 2NW, registered number: 01081551 (England and Wales); and
    2) Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Limited, Registered office: 33 Holborn, London, EC1N 2HT, registered number: 03261722 (England and Wales).

    All companies listed above are subsidiaries of J Sainsbury plc (185647).

  16. I got the following reply to my email:

    Dear Mr Mullen

    Thank you for your email that has been received into the Executive Office. I have been asked to look into your enquiry and respond to you personally.

    Thank you for your enquiry, the product you have enquired about is a branded product (not Sainsburys own brand) and we would encourage any further questions to be directed to Holme Farmed Venison, through their customer helpline.

    The Branded Holme Farm Venison (HFV) game products are assured by the British Game Alliance (BGA). The British Game Alliance independently audits all shoots participating in the accreditation, ensuring that they are all compliant with the requirements.

    Lead shot is being phased out, but is still in use, however HFV products only select from meat that has no shot in it. Initially, visually inspected and then metal detected at the game processor and again visually inspected in the final pack. There are additional warnings on pack that refers to shot to ensure customers are aware.

    Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

    Kind Regards

    Liam Ashton | Executive Office

    J Sainsbury’s plc | 33 Holborn, London | EC1N 2HT

    liam.ashton@sainsburys.co.uk | 0207 695 8900

    And so I sent this response:

    So what you’re saying is that you are selling a product which you cannot absolutely guarantee is completely free of lead, a poison of the central nervous system.
    Terry Mullen

    I will update again if / when I get a response to my reply

  17. I got the same reply and also responded with similar. But also HFV say the game is shot by their gamekeeper. However Britush Game Alliance (BGA) says half a million birds will find their way into the product. If that’s the case Sainsbury cannot declare no lead. I’ve put all this in the 1st and 2and email. They ignored these points in 1st and I’ve not had a response to the 2nd. I doubt I’ll get a reply. Shocking

  18. I got the same reply and also responded with similar. But also HFV say the game is shot by their gamekeeper. However Britush Game Alliance (BGA) says half a million birds will find their way into the product. If that’s the case Sainsbury cannot declare no lead. I’ve put all this in the 1st and 2nd email. They ignored these points in 1st and I’ve not had a response to the 2nd. I doubt I’ll get a reply. Shocking

  19. I got the same. I pressed them on it in a 2nd email and also pointed out that HFV say their game is supplied by THEIR gamekeeper. BGA says half a million birds go into these products. They can’t both be right. So not possible for Sainsbury to say there is no lead shot. Anyway even if all shot were to be removed there would still be traces of lead. I’ve put all this in an email to CEO and press office. Still waiting for a reply…..

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