‘Wild’ Pheasant?

We get almost all of our vegetables, milk, and occasionally the odd other item (the homity pies are incredible!) from Riverford. Since we became customers in 2009 we’ve generally always received fantastic produce and great service. A few years ago we treated ourselves to lunch in the Riverford Field Kitchen. It’s a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it. Meals are served communally to long tables. There’s no menu, you’re simply served whatever is fresh and in season. When it comes to dessert, though, there is a choice – and what a choice. The Riverford pudding buffet is a little taste of heaven.

One of the things I admire about Riverford is that they stick to their principles as a business. So an email I received today raised my eyebrows somewhat. On the 5th November, the Field Kitchen will host a pheasant night, and it is being billed as a ‘wild night at Riverford Field Kitchen!’. The idea that pheasant – and much other game – is a wholly wild food is something of a myth. Many pheasants released for shooting were initially reared as intensively as many livestock, and intensive shoot management can be destructive. I didn’t know how much Riverford knew about all this and how carefully they will have sourced their pheasant – there are wild breeding pheasants and small-scale, sensitively managed pheasant shoots can be of net benefit to other wildlife depending on the circumstances (habitat creation and management, winter food provision for birds) so perhaps they go to one of these sources. But the email didn’t specify. Then there’s the lead ammunition issue. I’m not particularly keen to eat anything shot with lead even if the personal risks from the odd meal of game would be low. It’s just not something I want to support, and the latest evidence suggests the risks may be a lot higher than we thought anyway even for occasional consumers.

So, I sent them an email to find out (after the page break below). I’ll post any reply I receive here too.

Good afternoon,

We loved our first visit to Riverford Field Kitchen a few years back, and are hoping to come again soon!
I know your sourcing policies are usually second to none but I do have a couple of questions about pheasant.
  • Firstly, whilst the bird may have been locally shot it is common for pheasants released for shooting to have been reared elsewhere, including continental Europe, often quite intensively (conditions comparable to battery reared chickens, see here). Do you know if the birds you will be supplied with were wild or released, and whether the shoot in question follows industry best practice for releasing e.g. as outlined by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust? http://www.gwct.org.uk/media/208606/Sustainable-gamebird-releasing.pdf
  • Secondly, there are increasing concerns about the effects of lead shot, both in the human food chain and in the wider environment. The DEFRA Lead Ammunition Group recently advised government that ‘lead is a highly toxic hazard and presents risks at all levels of exposure’? (see here) Can you confirm whether the birds you will be serving were shot with lead?
Depending on the circumstances pheasant varies from healthy wild meat to a product that has essentially been factory farmed, with impacts on biodiversity in the wider countryside that remain poorly understood. It certainly should not be seen as an obviously wild, organic food.
I’ll be posting this email and your reply on my blog at https://chrisfosternature.wordpress.com/ – I hope you don’t mind – and I look forward to your reassurance that Riverford remains committed to working with ‘small-scale producers who can offer a level of care for their animals that intensive farming systems cannot.’
Best wishes,
Chris Foster

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