Liam Stokes - CEO of the British Game Assurance (BGA) - explains the various factors threatening to disrupt the game meat market in 2021/22, and what the BGA is doing to ensure things run as smoothly as possible

I am sure we are all looking forward to a normal shooting season. A season we don’t need to describe as ‘unprecedented’, ‘challenging’ or ‘pivotal’. But it will not be this season. Our shoots may not be facing the obvious lumpen threats of lockdowns, but just offshore a perfect storm is gathering. EU Exit, post-Covid recovery and supermarket crackdowns on lead ammunition have coalesced into a cyclone that is going to make landfall over the game meat market. We all have a role to play in steering a path through the squall.

Our role as the provider of assurance to the game shooting community is widely understood, but the part British Game Assurance (BGA) plays in the game meat market is nuanced and technical. I sometimes have conversations that suggest some misapprehensions. We do not handle game and we do not sell game directly. We do not set prices. It is not in our gift to guarantee a price per bird to our registered shoots. Our role is to get as many people in the country eating game, stimulating demand, working to open new routes to market and new ways of serving or presenting game on the shelf or on the menu, then passing these opportunities to BGA registered dealers and processors to supply.

Ensuring the flow of game from shoots to dinner plates
In a season such as this, our role in the market can be more simply stated as ensuring the flow of game from shoot to plates is not disrupted. People ask us when they will see more money for their BGA birds, and while we do not set prices we would expect that in the fullness of time a vibrant market should pass value back to the shoot gate. And that vibrant market will absolutely require British Game Assured birds. But for this season, our priority is to make sure every BGA shoot has an outlet for their game. We have secured new retail and hospitality markets that will help, but we need everyone to do their bit simply by picking up the phone.

It really is that simple. The market is in a severe state of flux, and game dealers will know how many birds they need and what their requirements are. Shoot managers need to be in the habit of phoning their regular dealer and ensuring all is well. And if it is not, they need to phone other dealers and secure a route to market with which both the shoot and the dealer are happy.

We at BGA can assist in this process if that is helpful, we can play matchmaker between BGA shoots and BGA registered dealers. Even if you aren’t registered with us, do feel free to get in touch and we will try to help. Just don’t be surprised if we gently suggest you register with us along the way!

In case you need more convincing of the urgency of the situation, before you reach for your mobile you might want to ponder what exactly is happening out there and how it might affect you and the birds you shoot.

Q and A with the BGA
Why is this shooting season (2021/22) so different?

There are three key drivers of change this year. The full implications of EU Exit were not felt last season because implementation coincided with the January lockdown, so no one was shooting, whereas this season Brexit is a key consideration for any dealer hoping to export game.
Covid continues to affect hospitality, with pubs, restaurants and hotels continuing to opt for simplified menus as they recover from a brutal 18 months.
Finally there is the vexed issue of lead. Supermarkets especially are moving decisively away from lead, and as the outlet for over 12.5% of game (based on 2021/22 projections) we need to make sure this demand is satisfied.

Who is generating that demand for lead-free birds?
Not us! And arguably not the science on human health. There is an interesting debate to be had over the health impact of lead and the various lead alternatives, but the major retailers are not interested. They do not want lead on their shelves, and if we waste time debating the justifications for that decision we will miss the boat and game will disappear from supermarkets. Which given the success BGA has enjoyed in getting game into almost all major supermarkets, would be a great shame.

So if my shoot goes lead-free, will I get a better price for my game?
Possibly. You will certainly find the route to market easier, because this coming season game from lead-free shoots will be much in demand. As already noted, BGA does not, cannot and will not set prices, so I can’t say if lead-free will attract a premium. But it is a product game dealers will be actively trying to source, and if you do contact BGA and ask for help locating a registered dealer, we will find it easier to help you if your shoot is lead-free.

Why is export of shot game so difficult? What is BGA doing to help?
EU Exit has introduced a border between the UK and the EU, and negotiating the border is a new challenge. Game in the feather can no longer go directly to processors in Europe, it needs to go first to a dealer in the UK so a vet can certify its health and hygiene status. That certification then needs to pass muster with EU border officials, and this is proving tricky as this paperwork is new and no one is experienced in using it.
BGA has been liaising with Defra, APHA, the NGDA, our colleagues at St Davids Vets and our registered dealers to try to smooth the process, but this is very much a work in progress.

What is BGA doing about the domestic game meat market this season?
For the 21/22 season we have worked with our registered dealers to secure new lines in major supermarkets across the country, increased the use of game by public procurement, and placed game on menus in major hospitality chains such as Thwaites and Drake and Morgan.
In the three years since BGA was founded, the retail market for game has grown 9.6%. We will be continuing this work throughout this extraordinary season, and look forward to our community reaping the benefits as the world, hopefully, returns to normality in the coming years.