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Tim Bonner: The political importance of eating game

This month, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance and Eat Wild Board member, Tim Bonner, wrote a guest opinion piece for Eat Wild on the political importance of eating game.

There might not seem to be an obvious connection between pheasant and stilton pasta and political general election manifestos, but in my day job as Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance I know that there is almost nothing that is more important for the defence of game shooting than game marketing.

As long as fifteen years ago I remember sitting in the back of a focus group commissioned to test how best to promote and defend game shooting. There was one message that resonated loud and clear as it has from all the opinion research and polling we have done since. As the lead researcher put it: “everyone who has ever eaten a pheasant is a friend of shooting”. Of course, game is nutritious, healthy and tastes great, but it is its role in breaking through prejudice and assumptions about game shooting that makes game marketing even more valuable.

Most of the opposition to shooting emanates from assumptions about those who shoot game, and their motivation for doing it. When people understand that game shooting produces high quality food their attitude changes fundamentally, and it is public attitudes that drive politics.

In 2019 the Labour Party went into the general election with commitments to consult on banning grouse shooting and to restrict game farming. In Wales the Labour government has banned game shooting on public land, refused to pay Covid grants to some shooting businesses and is now proposing to license the release of pheasants and partridges. There is reason, therefore, for shooting to be concerned about the possibility of a change in government in Westminster.

The good news is that thus far Labour has distanced itself from previous commitments. In a recent interview it was put to Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reed that the Countryside Alliance suspects Labour in Wales will “ban game shooting through the back door” and asked whether we are wrong to worry about Labour’s approach in Westminster. He responded: “We have no plans whatsoever to do anything of the sort. As long as shooting is done responsibly and within the law, then shooting can continue”.

A big part of the battle of persuading the sensible centre ground of politics and the public that game shooting is acceptable is explaining that it produces food. There are multiple environmental, social and economic arguments for game shooting, but none of them is as valuable as a game pie at a football match or game on the menu in NHS hospitals. The way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach and Eat Wild is in the lead in feeding game to the nation and changing its perception of game shooting.

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