The British Game Alliance - small shoots
- Credit: Archant
Can smaller shoots sign up to and benefit from British Game Alliance membership? Chief Executive Liam Stokes says yes, all shoots can benefit from its mission to bring game meat to a wider market
The value of British Game Alliance (BGA) membership for smaller shoots is something we probably don’t talk about enough, because the value is a little less obvious than to the larger shoots who are perhaps more invested in the whole game meat supply chain. The BGA is trying to do something of value for the whole shooting community, which I believe is just as applicable to the DIY syndicate as it is to the larger commercial operators.
The BGA is an assurance scheme and a marketing and development board for game meat. We define our mission as ‘promoting, developing and assuring the consumption of game meat’, so the link to shoots selling their game into the food chain is immediately obvious. But note, we are trying to safeguard ‘the consumption of game’, not the sale.
I believe the days in which people could pluck meat out the hedgerow and eat it without anyone else asking where it came from are over. If they weren’t gone already, I think the Covid-19 pandemic finished them off. The general public, the media, the government: all will take an ever-increasing interest in how food (especially meat) is being produced and harvested. So whatever we do at the BGA to enhance and protect the game meat sector, I believe it needs to embrace all shooting operations of all sizes, no matter who is eating the game.
The BGA works by signing up shoots and game farms, not individuals, as members. We also register businesses such as processors, retailers, pubs, restaurants and hotels as suppliers of the Assured Game our members produce. Our shoots agree to operate by the BGA standards, which are built on the principles of the Code of Good Shooting Practice.
Over time, these standards have been revised and brought into line with what you would expect from all credible food and farming standards, and are now subject to independent inspection from an accredited auditor.
The primary benefit of BGA assurance is in reassuring the public and the government that the game we are consuming has been ethically reared and sustainably managed. Every food-producing industry in the UK has credible assurance, and that is what we are trying to establish.
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Using other meat-producing sectors as a blueprint, we have created standards that cover all aspects of rearing, releasing, shoot management and game handling. These standards are driven by what consumers and retailers demand, by the policy objectives of the government, and by the objectives of the major shooting organisations who can use our standards both to defend shooting politically and to enhance the sustainability of our sector.
What makes the BGA standards such a powerful and unique tool is the auditing. No standard can be credible, particularly in the eyes of government, without a programme of inspections delivered by accredited, independent auditors, and that is what we now have operating within game shooting. But for this defence of shooting to be sound and for us all to have faith in the sustainability of our sector, we need as many shoots as possible, of all sizes, to be involved.
Promoting game meat
The standards also underpin the second aspect of our work, promoting the consumption of game. We work to find new outlets for ‘assured game’, the game meat produced by our member shoots, meeting new stockists and new retailers and encouraging them to place orders with our registered game processors. Where an outlet already sells game, we work with their existing supplier to ask them to consider switching to BGA-assured game, to build public confidence in the game meat sector, and encourage them to put game on the menu or the shelf all year round in new and innovative ways.
We develop new game products, including pies, sausage rolls, pasta dishes and meatballs, to help make game more accessible. These products are then produced by our registered processors, at no profit to the BGA except the pursuit of our mission to boost the demand for game meat.
Our Eat Wild campaign utilises social media and mobilises celebrity chefs to share creative ways of eating and cooking game, targeting the general public and promoting the value of game as a healthy, tasty, versatile meat.
The BGA is good for all size of shoot
This might seem a benefit only to those shoots selling their game into the food chain, but in fact a higher profile for game meat is a benefit to everyone who shoots. There is no surer way to secure support for shooting than converting more people to putting game meat on their plates. The more people we convince to try game and make it a part of their diets, the safer shooting will be.
The same is true of our efforts to develop the game meat sector into a modern 21st century food producer. We are building links with fellow meat producer organisations and the relevant Defra and FSA teams, ensuring our sector has a voice in discussions of Brexit and Covid-19 and communicating government messages back to our members. We are developing health services, such as the only validated test for mycoplasma in game birds, to support our members in pursuing ever higher standards of sustainability.
A more professional game meat sector, from egg to plate, can only be good for everyone who shoots, and many of these projects are directly applicable to any size of shoot. A healthier flock, for example, is as much a boost for a small farm shoot as it is for a commercial operator.
Where does BGA funding come from?
Our funding comes almost entirely from membership and a voluntary levy on every bird shot. Membership is charged on a sliding scale depending on the size of the operation, so if you’re shooting fewer than 1,000 birds a season your membership is £100, which is less than the cost of auditing our standard. Similarly, the voluntary 50p levy on every bird shot draws more funding from those operations shooting more birds, to be used to the benefit of all members. This means larger members are subsidising smaller members, which I believe is right. It is a demonstration of our belief that the benefits of BGA membership must be accessible to all.
I am not going to tell anyone they must join the BGA. All I can do is lay out the vision and hope people buy into it. We are working towards a sustainable shooting sector, subject to credible standards, supporting a healthy, vibrant market for game meat. If that is a destination you can get behind, I hope you will join us on the journey.