Countryside Alliance Head of Shooting Liam Stokes writes: 

The arrival of the New Year is traditionally the time for resolutions and predictions. My resolution is always the same- do more shooting. This year I am limiting myself to only one prediction; 2018 will see a truly momentous moment in the history of game shooting, as we bring about the creation of a game meat marketing board with associated shoot standards.

It has been two months since I last wrote in Countryman’s Weekly about the solutions we need to bring the game meat market into the 21st century. I wrote that piece because people were getting very animated about the market and were starting to talk and write about their concerns in magazines, around shoot lunch tables and in the Countryside Alliance Campaign for Shooting inbox.

Two months later and the conversation around this issue has only intensified. It is enormously to the credit of the shooting community that it is so concerned about the sustainable sale of game meat. Our opponents fall over themselves trying to paint us as mere blasters of feathery targets, with nary a care for the fate of dead birds. Yet our discourse is dominated by worry over whether all the meat we produce is being brought to market in an effective and efficient manner.

Luckily the past two months have not only seen more talk about this issue, but also a good deal of action behind the scenes. I am more confident than ever that a game meat marketing board, arising from shooting’s grassroots with help from the Alliance, is on the immediate horizon.

This is exactly what we need. An organisation that genuinely represents commercial shooting interests working to modernise the supply chain, stimulating consumer demand by spreading the good word about game meat, and opening new markets. But such an organisation can also perform an even more vital role: enforcement of standards.

It is too easy to get obsessed with the problem right in front of our nose, to not see the wood for the trees. Everyone is talking about game meat marketing, so that is the problem everyone wants to solve. I am confident that this new, industry-led marketing board will do exactly that. But we mustn’t ignore the wider problem.

The shooting sector needs self-regulation, not because there is anything uniquely bad about shooting, but because every industry in the modern world needs self-regulation. Government regulation surely follows if self-regulation fails, and in the case of shooting such regulation would be steered by those who are not our friends. Shooting is a growing, thriving sector of the rural economy, and it needs to be fit for the modern era in which we operate.

We already have the Code of Good Shooting Practice, which is the benchmark of best practice to which the Countryside Alliance and all the other shooting organisations subscribe. We will continue to do so, and it is important the Code continues to judge what is best practice for guns and shoot managers. We will continue to insist our members abide by it as a part of the terms of membership.

What shooting needs however is different. It needs a set of standards with teeth and credibility in the modern marketplace and in the political arena. These standards need to be developed by those running commercial shooting operations to assure buy-in from commercial operators, and they must be enforced. Failing to adhere to them must carry some sort of penalty agreed by the rest of the shooting community. This is the sort of self-regulation shooting requires in order to realise its potential in the 21st century.

A game meat marketing board is the ideal vehicle to deliver this self-regulation. You simply cannot go about promoting British game meat without being able to point to an effective environmental, welfare and handling standards underpinning the production of that meat.

We already know that the idea of a game meat marketing board has enormous and widespread support across shooting. This support can be harnessed to deliver the enforcement of the standards on which shooting agrees. Surely in the fullness of time this board will be supported by a levy on shot game, just as the Development Boards that support agricultural produce are funded by levies on production. Any levy payer can then be expected to adhere to the standards or risk their game not benefitting from the board’s promotion.

It is a short step from there to seeing shoots brand themselves as being supporters of the game meat marketing board. This support will come with the assurance that a shoot adheres to the board’s standards. Sporting agents can agree to only sell from shoots that are supporters of the board and its standards. Guns can choose to only spend their money with board supporters. As the whole community rows in behind the board and its standards and objectives, a rigorous system of self-regulation emerges.

Of course, there are challenges. A fair, legally-sound and transparent system of complaint and investigation will be required to deal with alleged breaches of the board’s standards. But this obstacle will be overcome. Frankly, every other industry has dealt with this problem and, to secure the future of shooting, we have to as well.

This, then, is our moment. The will is there to deliver a game meat marketing board, and if this enthusiasm is taken to its logical conclusion then we also have the will to create enforceable shoot standards. The conversations about shoot standards and the game meat market have been going on for years, gathering intensity along the way. 2018 will be the year that we finally get it done. I’m a lot more confident about that than I am about finding the time to do more shooting.