Comment: Independently audited standards are the only credible response to scrutiny

By Liam Stokes, chief executive, British Game Alliance

The British Game Alliance was launched two years ago in response to twin concerns in the game meat sector: oversupply and its impact on the value of game, and the lack of credibly enforced production standards. Today the BGA combines the roles of a marketing operation, development board and assurance scheme to support the modernisation of the game meat sector from egg to plate.

The importance of this mission has increased with the advent of lockdown and the COVID emergency, both in commercial and regulatory terms. Prior to this extraordinary period, the nation’s diet and the role of meat on our plates was already under intense scrutiny, mostly from the perspective of environmental impact and welfare. As lockdown eases, traceability and food safety will join these concerns as top priorities in the minds of retailers, the Government and the public. The only credible response to such scrutiny is independently audited standards such as the BGA’s Assurance Scheme.

Commercially, we are anticipating around a 30% decrease in the number of game birds shot this season, although there is a high degree of regional variation within that figure with some areas anticipating drops of up to 70%. This decrease in availability is however likely to be matched by a decrease in overall demand this season, as a large proportion of our UK game market is dependent upon a hospitality trade that is anticipating a slow restart.

The BGA therefore has a significant role to play in working with game processors to secure new markets, and to work with our stockists and suppliers to increase the demand for game products. We are seeing a more optimistic trend of people cooking at home cuts of meat more typically eaten in restaurants, and game suppliers moving into home-delivery services have seen huge increases in demand.

Looking to the future, the challenge for game is to assert its credentials as an ethical, healthy, local meat at a time when the rise of ‘conscious consumption’ has been expedited by the pandemic. Luckily, game has a great story to tell, given the correlation between shoot management and carbon-sinking trees and hedgerows. Game also sits well in those retailers that are poised to take advantage of the trends in shopping locally, such as farm shops and independent butchers. The twin obstacles to realising these opportunities will be concerns over poor shoot management practice and concerns over accessibility to those who have never cooked game before. The answer to the former is credible assurance, and to the latter a concerted marketing campaign and the development of new products as close as possible to ready to eat.

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