I am a fan of Marks and Spencer (M&S) – but maybe that is going to change. I am signed up to their email newsletter (which only yesterday was telling me about offers on champagne and lingerie – how sadly they misread my lifestyle!), I tend to seek out their stores in London to buy a suitably up-market sandwich for lunch, and my local BP garage has an M&S food store which sometimes tempts me on the way to the till. And I will watch M&S adverts just to see Twiggy. But I have a grouse with them.
My grouse, is that they are going to start selling grouse in two of their stores in London (or may be – maybe we can persuade them not to do so) in October. The two stores in question are those in High Street Kensington and Marble Arch – both of which I have frequented and both of which will lose my custom if this goes ahead (as will M&S generally).
M&S make quite a big deal of their sourcing policy for food – and although it doesn’t look like anything very special it doesn’t look awful either. But, not surprisingly it concentrates on farming and not game shooting so I think they have seriously dropped the ball on this one. And it’s not just grouse that M&S will be selling, it’s rabbit, wood pigeon, pheasant, partridge and venison too.
Here are some questions for M&S:
A. Selling red grouse
1. The rare and threatened hen harrier hardly exists on British grouse moors these days because of illegal persecution by game-shooting interests (see here for a recent statement by the RSPB, see here for a government agency report on the subject, see here for a statement in a scientific paper by the Director (at the time) of the Game Conservancy Trust, see here for links to more science on the subject). Other protected wildlife is also killed by grouse shooting interests. What steps has M&S taken to ensure that the Yorkshire and Northumberland moors from which you source your grouse are sticking to the law?
2. Red grouse are shot with lead ammunition in this country. Lead is a poison. Previous studies have shown that a proportion of red grouse sold for human consumption in supermarkets and game dealers have far higher lead levels than would be legal for human consumption if the meat were beef, pork, chicken etc (see here for a scientific paper which tested lead levels in red grouse (see especially Fig 2 and Table 3). Game meat has escaped proper regulation on this matter. What steps did you take to ensure that the grouse you plan to sell do not have high lead levels?
3. The Food Standards Agency updated their advice on lead in food last year. They highlighted that lead is a poison and that a main source of lead is through our diets (see here for link). The FSA recommended that pregnant women and children, particularly but not exclusively, should pay attention to their lead intake. What steps have you taken to label grouse sold in your shops to ensure that the most vulnerable do not ingest high lead levels?
4. Because of the unnaturally high densities of red grouse on grouse moors (no, these are not remotely natural situations!) grouse moor managers provide piles of medicated grit to reduce infestations of parasitic worms in the adult grouse. The red grouse eat the grit provided and sometimes are even caught and more medicines are administered directly. Concerns are growing over over-use of these chemicals. What steps have you taken to check on the parasite loads and chemical use on the moors which are your suppliers?
5. Driven grouse shooting (as opposed to walked-up shooting – M&S, do you know the difference, because you should?) is a sport which depends on very high, unnaturally high, densities of red grouse to be profitable or ‘fun’. A grouse moor is as intensively managed a place as is a field of wheat in the lowlands. Moorland management for grouse shooting involves a range of practices which your customers or the general public may find disturbing, such as intensive legal killing of foxes, stoats, crows etc in order to create the unnaturally high levels of red grouse for shooting (and now for you, M&S). In addition, moorland burning and drainage can damage internationally important peatland areas and increase greenhouse gas emissions. What steps have you taken to find out about these issues from your suppliers? How will these greenhouse gas issues affect your desire to be carbon-neutral? What steps will you take to inform your customers of these issues?
B. Generally on selling game
1. The studies that showed that lead levels in red grouse can sometimes be very high also demonstrated similar levels in other game which you are thinking of selling – rabbits, venison, pheasants, partridges etc (see here and here for UK references and here for EFSA report). High proportions of game meat sold for human consumption have lead levels that would be illegal in other meats. Any potential problems with venison are easily avoided by sourcing your venison from wild-shot deer killed with non-toxic ammunition. Many organisations who cull deer have switched from lead to copper or other non-toxic bullets. What steps have you taken to source your venison from estates who use non-toxic ammunition?
2. This is not a trivial issue. The evidence grows that ingested lead is a very important poison – some even claim that drops in social violence are as a result of removal of lead from the environment (see link here). Lead has been removed from petrol, from water pipes, from many uses in fishing weights and in as many other uses as possible on environmental and health grounds. Countries such as Denmark have outlawed the use of lead ammunition completely. There is a government working group which is making glacially slow progress on the health and environmental issues (due, it seems, to delaying tactics by vested interests). I understand that the Risk Assessment that will one day see the light of day will be something that you should read. Why are you getting into this contentious issue instead of waiting for the results of the Lead Ammunition Group to be published?
3. Who did you consult on this issue? Did you consult the scientists working on lead issues? Did you read the relevant scientific literature? Or have you blundered into this area without proper thought and due diligence?
4. Given that this is a highly contentious area, have you noticed that the memberships of wildlife conservation organisations (such as the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts etc) are immense, and look very much like your customers, whereas you won’t meet many practising grouse shooters in the streets. Have you done the maths? Why have you chosen to enter such a contentious area?
5. I would like to know whether M&S would support the licensing of grouse moors so that your task as a purchaser would be made just a little easier in choosing reputable suppliers.
So, that’s my grouse with M&S. I’ll drop my grouse when they drop theirs!
M&S (@marksandspencer) have been ignoring Twitter questions on this subject and supplying unconvincing answers to emails. Feel free to email this blog or your own comments to the M&S Director of Food firstname.lastname@example.org (copied to the Chief Exec email@example.com).
After thinking about it – please do sign the epetition on licensing grouse moors.
And there is an interesting poll on whether grouse hunting should be allowed to continue which you might find worth a quick glance.
And this is a hen harrier…
…just in case, like me, you don’t see them very often these days.