‘It will soon be time to set our New Years resolutions. Some of us will no doubt attempt ‘Dry January’ after a few too many festive drams. Others will be actively trying to burn off the calories from a glut of mince pies, cold cuts and cheeses. Setting our goals for the year ahead is commonplace – much like crossing hands and bursting into a tuneless rendition of Auld Lang Syne as the bells toll.
However, also increasingly commonplace seems to be the government’s desire to interfere with our self-improvement journey. So make the most of your Christmas dinner and trimmings while you can – the latest influencers from the University of Oxford have suggested that soon the government will impose price hikes on meats such as beef, lamb and pork.
The researchers argue that that meat-eaters are increasing the burden on the health service and the economy, owing to a loss of workforce from ill health. Their studies also indicate that cutting meat consumption could prevent almost 6,000 deaths in the UK and save £700m in NHS costs. Whether it is viewed as a sensible move to encourage health or just fear-mongering, there is a growing awareness of the environmental impact of eating meat. Additional advice from the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change says the number of sheep and cattle in the UK should be reduced between a fifth and a half to help reduce carbon emissions.
The estimated taxes would hit high-income nations, such as Britain, hardest and could mean up to 14 per cent increases on red meats and 79 per cent on processed meats such as sausages. The report also predicts an increase in the number of pigs and chickens as they produce less methane – but does it also create an opportunity for an increase in game meat consumption?
The NFU deputy president, Guy Smith, said: “It is very encouraging to see such a focus on multi-purpose land use, diversification and energy crops as they offer opportunities for farmers to increase productivity and resilience in their businesses, while playing a greater role in meeting climate and environmental objectives.”
Despite efforts to diversify the farming landscape, environmental campaigner George Monbiot stated: “This is a timid and inadequate report. Roughly four million hectares of uplands is used for sheep, yet sheep account for just 1.2 per cent of our diet. Allowing trees to return to a significant portion of this land has a far greater potential for carbon reduction than the puny measures proposed in this report.”
The results are driven by intensive food production and lead to the question of diversifying food production, a move that shooting estates have long been campaigning for. George Thompson of Spaunton Estate said: “The estate has recently invested several thousand pounds on converting a derelict estate building into a game meat handling room. The facility is registered with Ryedale Council and gamekeepers have the required hygiene certification for handling and processing game meat for consumption.
“This new room allows us to dress all game shot on the estate with no wastage whatsoever and reducing the carbon footprint of our fresh game meat. We supply everything we shoot into local businesses and are passionate about the sustainability of grouse from ‘moor to mouth’.”
Brian Grigor, executive chef consultant for Albert Roux OBE, supports the ‘Moor to Eat’ campaign at Lammermuirs Moorland Group. He said: “Consumers are now eating far more conscientiously, choosing produce in season and there has been a real surge in consumers’ appetite for game.”
The North Yorkshire Moors Moorland Organisation’s Tina Brough added: “Grouse is a delicious, yet sustainable, healthy food source and we have been working closely with estates, restaurants, hotels and retail outlets to highlight the ‘hill-to-plate’ credentials of grouse. We have noticed a marked increase in the number of local outlets now stocking grouse as they recognise the market demand for it as a flavoursome game meat. Likewise, restaurants and hotels who have it on as a sell-out daily special.”
The British Game Alliance launched earlier this year to promote the benefits of eating wild game, ensuring a future for shooting and encouraging the British public to eat more, and better, game. Managing director, Tom Adams, said: “The BGA is striving to get more people eating game – but that’s not all. We need to reach trade customers and stockists that will get our assured wild game into the hands of consumers.”
The BGA is supported by the Royal Berkshire Shooting School. Founder Dylan Williams added: “This is such an exciting moment for shooting. Never before has a top agency been commissioned to promote all game meat to the British public. This is exactly the new ground the BGA was established to break, and exactly why every shoot in the country should join up.”
And it’s a move that has even managed to garner some royal support, with the Prince of Wales getting on board with the game meat initiative. Writing in Country Life ahead of his 70th birthday, Prince Charles explained one of his favourite recipes: pheasant crumble pie. He also revealed his love of a game version of a Greek classic. He said: “I got some recipes from someone I know, which are delicious. I invented a grouse one recently, coq au vin with grouse, as well as moussaka with grouse. It doesn’t always have to be lamb – in other words, groussaka!”