Shooting game is not the natural and free-range activity its supporters claim it is, according to a new film by animal activists.
The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) film alleges that much of the produce is not genuinely wild but is intensively reared in poor conditions by the shooting industry.
More than 17.5 million partridges and pheasants are shot annually. Smaller numbers of hares and deer are also shot. Game meat sales have in recent years been boosted by the support of popular chefs such as Gregg Wallace, the BBC TV Masterchef presenter.
Both the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Countryside Alliance (CA) claim game meat ‘is wild, natural and free range.’
According to LACS, Gunsmoke and Mirrors, shows ‘the reality of the intensive breeding and rearing conditions employed to protect this precious stock for shooting.... plus, evidence of the huge amount of wastage the industry produces making it clear that this is not about food but about sport.’
But a spokesperson for BASC said that much of the film was based on a misunderstanding of the industry.
The film quotes RSPB statistics that the UK’s natural habitat could support 1.6 million pheasants and yet sixteen times that number are released by the shooting industry annually, whilst 14 million partridges are also released. Covert filming in game farm laying pens shows cramped conditions for pheasants in the first eight weeks of their lives. Some birds also have bits inserted in their mouths and spectacles used to limit their vision.
Following the birds’ release in the countryside, the film claims the special provision of food and cover nearby ensures they do not need to seek new pastures. Consequently they are less likely to escape being shot by an estimated half-a-million people who annually pay many hundreds of pounds for the pleasure of killing the birds. Since 2007 it has no longer been necessary to obtain a game licence to shoot pheasant and the CA has recently been in the news for promoting shooting amongst young people.
Gunsmoke and Mirrors also shows incidents of dumping of birds following a shoot and disputes claims by shoot supporters that ‘99% of birds shot are ending up on the table.’
But BASC Communications Director Christopher Graffius insisted that 99 per cent of game farms were clearly following a new industry code of conduct introduced in 2010. He added that BASC had a taken a lead in criticising the three out of 300 game farms that rear birds for shooting using a cage system that didn’t meet its standards.
“The government is currently conducting its own enquiry to see if the conditions protect the welfare of the birds,” he said: “A lot of the LACS film is based on a misunderstanding of shooting.”
“Bits and spectacles are a welfare protection measure to prevent a weaker bird being picked on. Released birds quickly become self-reliant and towards the end of the shooting season they will move out of cover to start establishing territories.”
Graffius pointed to a 2011 study, conducted by market research company Mintel, predicting UK game meat sales will reach £84 million this year. Dumping, said Graffius, was not necessary “as the rest is taken home by shooters, those who work in the industry or sold to the continent. ”
Graffius said game meat sales were undoubtedly benefiting from well-known chefs support. One of these is Greg Wallace, who is much admired for his plain speaking approach on the popular BBC TV cooking programme, Masterchef. Last month Wallace publicly backed the CA’s game-to-eat campaign. Asked if he had viewed the LACS film, or taken a look at the conditions where birds are kept, a spokesperson for Wallace said: “he had not and therefore has no comment to make.”
The release of the LACS film coincides with the signing of an early day motion by 58 MPs that seeks to ‘end the suffering of game birds being shot for sport’ and which calls on ‘the Government to ensure that animals are protected from such senseless destruction.’