Iceland fail to demonstrate their grasp of the subject

Last week, Iceland foods (prop Malcom Walker – a keen shooter) was reported in the Daily Mail (editor Paul Dacre – grouse moor owner) as being about to stock frozen grouse in their stores.

This blog posted the following questions to Iceland (and emailed them to Mr Walker):

Iceland says: All Iceland brand products are clearly labelled on the back of our packs with a full and honest list of our ingredients, and information on their nutritional value.

This blog asks: will Iceland label their Red Grouse as probably having, on average, ten times the lead levels (a poison) as would be legally allowed for other meats?  Will Iceland add a food safety warning in line with Food Standards Agency Advice, which we assume Iceland are aware of, but in case they are not it goes as follows, ‘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.’?

Iceland says: All Iceland brand products are sourced from approved suppliers at approved sites.

This blog asks: will Iceland name the shooting estates from which their Red Grouse are sourced so that the public can make up their own minds on their quality? How are their game suppliers approved and by whom?

Iceland says: Iceland respects the environment.  Our efforts to reduce our environmental impact are co-ordinated by a cross-functional team, working closely with external partners including the Carbon Trust, WRAP and the British Retail Consortium Environmental Policy Action Group.

This blog asks: did Iceland not read the EMBER study or the remarks from the Climate Change Committee’s report of last week?  How does selling Red Grouse add up to respecting the environment?

 

Iceland have posted an ‘information’ sheet on their website which demonstrates either that they don’t know much or that they don’t care much – it’s difficult to tell which. The ‘information’ note is very carefully worded so let me pick apart a few bits of it.

But first, the game comes from Kezie Foods whose two directors are a couple of people called Murray (based in Murray Street). Murray is a fairly common surname (maybe the 113th commonest in fact). For example it is the surname of the former boss of the Countryside Alliance in Scotland who lives nearby too.  Can anyone tell me whether this is a link of kinship or one of those interesting coincidences that crop up in life? Just wondering. And, by the way, there’s a tennis player called Murray too.

And so, to Iceland! They are keen to talk about ‘game’ and not lead. The point is, or at least one point is, that the game that they are selling would be expected to have around 10 times the lead levels that would be legal for other forms of meat (beef, pork, chicken etc). Strangely, no lead limits are set for game meat – an administrative peculiarity. And so when Iceland say:
Game shot with lead ammunition has not been proven medically to have any adverse health effect.’ they would not be able to say ‘Meat with as much lead in it as the game that we will be selling has not been proven medically to have any adverse health effect‘ (assuming, as is overwhelmingly likely (but I don’t know for sure) that the grouse they are selling were shot with lead shot) because lead is a proven poison. That’s why the FSA updated their advice on eating game meat.  Iceland’s statement is a bit like saying ‘People called Murray have not been proven to be dangerous drivers when drunk’; no, probably not, but they still are, aren’t they?

Iceland say, ‘There is no documented medical advice that moderate consumption of shot game is in any way detrimental to health.‘.  My understanding is that there is no level of lead in food that won’t have some impact on health. Obviously the impacts are small the less you eat. but pregnant women and young children are particularly susceptible to lead which is why the Food Standards Agency say their adviceis especially important for vulnerable groups such as toddlers and children, pregnant women and women trying for a baby, as exposure to lead can harm the developing brain and nervous system.’.  that’s why Mums go to Iceland and don’t buy lead-shot game to feed to their children perhaps?
A few meals of high-lead game meat certainly won’t kill you, but Iceland’s position on this subject seems rather carefully worded to avoid mentioning the impacts of lead on pregnant women and young children. It does not strike me as being a very full and open description of the subject, but rather a very carefully worded justification for selling game.  Is Iceland thinking of their customers’ health or the health of their bank balance? Although, they are selling so little grouse that it could be that they are thinking more about making a point than making money. What point might that be?
Let us move on.
Iceland ‘…do not condone illegal activities and would not source from any establishment which was  involved in any illegal activity‘ which is good to hear. How, I wonder, do they ensure that the estates supplying them with grouse are not involved in killing Hen Harriers, Peregrines and Golden Eagles? Maybe they could tell us the names of the estates supplying their grouse and then raptor experts could help them out. Remember, remarkably, there are precious few birds of prey on grouse moors.
Iceland say ‘We do not source from moorlands with unethical or questionable practices.’ which sounds very good.  Which moorlands does Iceland use? What steps do they take to audit their practices? How does Iceland react to the EMBER study (see above) which suggests that burning of blanket bogs is a questionable practice – does Iceland audit the muirburn practices of their suppliers?
Iceland says ‘If moorland were not managed, there would be no grouse.‘ which is just arrant nonsense, but is the type of rubbish that one often hears from the shooting community.  How did the Red Grouse evolve into a UK race of the very widespread Willow Grouse without gamekeepers, I wonder? And how does the Willow Grouse occupy habitat all around the world at our latitude without its habitat being managed in the ways that we do in the UK?
So, Iceland don’t impress me with their approach or their knowledge. If this is the level of understanding that food retailers have about their products then I am very concerned. Iceland clearly don’t need to sell grouse meat – it seems to me that they are very keen to do so though.
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10 Replies to “Iceland fail to demonstrate their grasp of the subject”

  1. I do wonder if a question to the Advertising Standard Authority is in order regards their implication that there is no evidence of adverse health effects from eating lead in meat? I'm feeling mislead, that's for sure.

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  2. It is amazing that lead was removed from petrol many years ago now, across the whole of Europe, because of the suspicion that it harmed health, especially children's health and yet it may be possible, at least in this country, to eat game food with high lead levels. Defies all logic.

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  3. Has the amount of lead shot, shot per year into the environment been calculated, or known and published? ie the weight of lead sold in cartridges?

    Its going somewhere too.

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    1. An indication of the amount of lead annually dispersed into the environment has been provided by the gun trade and was published in the minutes of the Lead Ammunition Group's 9th meeting in December 2013 at item 2.12. The minutes are published on the Group's website. This information is included in the report and risk assessments submitted to Defra in June 2015 and which are now being considered by Government. See www.leadammunitiongroup.org.uk.

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      1. John - many thanks! And we wish your report well. Would you like a Guest Blog on the subject soon? When do you think your report might be put in the public domain?

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        1. The Lead Ammunition Group’s final report, including four detailed assessments covering risks to human health and to wildlife from lead ammunition and a register of options for risk mitigation, was submitted to Defra and the Food Standards Agency on 3 June 2015.

          The Group’s website has since then been brought up to date so as to provide an accurate introduction and background to the Group’s work since its foundation in 2010, in anticipation of including our report as well as the Government’s responses. It can be accessed via www.leadammunitiongroup.org.uk.

          It was unfortunate that some of the Group’s representatives resigned just before the report could be finalised, but they were able to comment in detail on the draft and their comments were duly responded to in detail. None of the comments has altered the report’s findings, thrust or balance.

          On 30 June we received a helpful and constructive letter of appreciation and thanks from the Minister responsible for this policy area, Rory Stewart OBE MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs.

          The Minister informed us that officials are now carefully considering the report’s findings, and moreover he is reassured that the Group remains in place to assist if clarification of any points is required.

          He confirms that it has always been the intention that this report will be made publicly available, but that the timing of publication would be decided by Defra and FSA. This is something the Government will now reflect on and when ready Government will ask that the report is placed on the Group’s website for public access.

          The report and risk assessments provide a comprehensive evidence-based account of all the various risks and their scale, as well as all the possible options for mitigation. I desist from further comment until the principal job has been completed, as the report will speak for itself; but thank you for the invitation to provide a guest blog.

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  4. All grouse moors burn heather, most are drained artificially, as far as I'm aware all grouse are shot with lead ( a question for Yorkshire Water too?) Given their attitudes to raptors all " benefit" from persecution of Harriers, Peregrines and Eagles, so all a culpable. Also which estates or game dealers are going to tell any retailer " yes we kill birds of prey". They'll do what they always do when asked this question, blame somebody else or deny it happens at all. I for one will not be passing through the doors of any Iceland store now.

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  5. Iceland - a supermarket that really understands what its customer wants.

    This is the supermarket that decided in 2001 that it was going to become the UK's leading seller of organic food. It made a huge donation to the National Trust for a dozen Farm and Wildlife advisors to help their tenants not just rely on the expertise and support of land agents. Iceland hoped all those middle class members would come flocking to Iceland. Funnily enough, they didn't. The whole exercise was an expensive non sequiter.

    Realising that the move was commercial suicide, they went back to being a minor value chain lacking in purpose or innovation. Meanwhile Lidl and Aldi grew this sector enormously, whilst Waitrose consolidated their middle clarss credentials.

    Grouse Meat for sale in Iceland? don't make me laugh. Malcom Walker is selling what he would want, not what their customer cares for.

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