Sainsbury’s refuses to address concerns about selling potentially toxic gamebirds

It’s UK game week so it seems timely to re-visit the Sainsbury’s saga.

UK supermarket Sainsbury’s is selling gamebird meat which is potentially contaminated with toxic, poisonous lead shot.

The product of interest is this diced game casserole, produced by Home Farmed Venison in North Yorkshire and kitemarked by the British Game Alliance, which claims to be the official marketing board for the game shooting industry.

[Photos by Ruth Tingay]

It’s not illegal to sell toxic, lead-contaminated game meat; lots of supermarkets sell lead-contaminated gamebirds, although the more ethically responsible ones (Waitrose) have committed to selling lead-free meat by 2021 and the contaminated stuff they currently sell at least comes with a proper health warning (e.g. see here for the warning about toxic lead shot in the Waitrose Xmas pheasant).

It’s a bit like fags really. You can still buy them but they have to contain a public health warning. But unlike fags, poisonous game meat is still on full display on supermarket shelves and is often being marketed as the ‘healthy’ option!!

The game meat on sale at Sainsbury’s is of particular interest for two reasons.

(1) It’s the first time that a British Game Alliance-endorsed product has been promoted in a UK supermarket, and given the lack of transparency and confidence in this ‘official marketing board’ it is obviously going to lead to questions.

(2) There is no warning on the packaging about the product containing poisonous lead shot.

Two earlier blogs on Sainsbury’s game meat (here and here) have revealed an alarming unwillingness from Sainsbury’s to address the concerns.

Sainsbury’s did respond to questions, but to be perfectly frank the answers given were pretty unconvincing and Sainsbury’s has now told one of our blog readers,

At present Sainsbury’s will not be providing any further update regarding your concerns, and we would encourage any further questions to be directed to Holme Farmed Vension, through their customer helpline‘.

Wow. And this is the supermarket that claims it wants to be ‘the UK’s most trusted retailer’.

Several blog readers have pointed out that this mixed game casserole is no longer available on Sainsbury’s website and have suggested this may be connected to the questions being asked of Sainsbury’s. This seems unlikely given that the casserole is still available in the supermarkets and its removal from the online store may instead simply be a result of a diminishing supply due to Covid restrictions.

Needless to say, there is now great interest in finding out whether Sainsbury’s claim that ‘there is no lead shot in this product’ is based on fact or wishful thinking.

There’ll be more on this in due course.

13 thoughts on “Sainsbury’s refuses to address concerns about selling potentially toxic gamebirds”

  1. Like everyone else who wrote to Sainsbury’s, I too got a reply from the executive office….’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.’

    Does RPUK think I should now continue to pursue the issue with HFV, or just wait until we see what happens next?

  2. Yep I got that reply from Sainsbury. I persisted with several follow up emails but they have been ignored.
    Whilst I am extremely unhappy about their lack of desire to provide provenance or to be even remotely interested in this issue and the wider implications I’m guessing they are covered by some loophole.
    I contacted Sainsbury and Trading Standards about Sainsbury selling a product called ‘seaweed’ – there was no seaweed in the product at all (I think it was cabbage) and apparently that is deemed to be ok. I mean it didn’t even have a tiny % of seaweed in it. How does that not contravene the trader’s description Act!

    1. If it was seaweed in the Chinese take away sense then it never did contain seaweed any more than toad in the hole contains toad or shepherds pie contains shepherds. Chinese cuisine has a whole range of “sea spiced” dishes where the flavouring evokes the sea even when the there is no actual sea food in it. If that was what you were complaining about I’m not surprised you got short shift. (and apologies if not)

  3. Producer certification schemes generally aren’t worth the hot air they are blown on. Whilst they may insist on raised standards where it is ‘good practise’ they almost invariably dodge the harder issues. The contrast, which conservation would do well to promote, is where there is transparency, as in the Forestry Stewardship Council which has a constitution splitting the governing body between producer, social and environmental members.

  4. Hi,

    For food complaints/concerns…if purchased birds contain any traces of lead shot, consumers should retain receipt, place and date of purchase and submit the bird carcass to the Local Authority for testing at a Public Analyst lab.

    Has The Food Standards Agency been contacted and concerns raised with them?

    I have often wondered what levels of lead could be found in water courses on driven grouse moors. Under the Private Water Supply Regulations, there should be data available under Freedom of Information which would reveal chemical parameter values for water sources supplying properties on private water supplies. Commercial properties must have their water analysed, however for domestic residential properties this may not be compulsory unless they have applied for an improvement grant and/or they are for sale/have been sold . If you can identify grouse shooting estates which serve private water supplies, you should be able to get data on lead.


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    1. I suspect that what is required is toxicology examination of numerous meat samples aimed at detecting non visible traces of lead.
      As far as FOI requests are concerned I understand that the legislation only applies to fully public owned companies. Just last week I read that Royal Mail had refused to supply information on the grounds that it was not in 100% public ownership and therefore not obliged to answer FOI requests.

  5. Maybe this is a moment for some metal detectorist stunts ? Pop into your local store and see if running a detector over the meat counter is seen as “positive publicity” ? Then Share !

  6. The fact that Sainsburys are stubbornly sticking to their party-line on this issue strongly suggests that, as hinted by Sue Bliss above, they’ve ascertained that they are legally in the clear. Whether they are morally so is another matter altogether.

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