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Venison on the menu in food procurement debate

A parliamentary debate on Tuesday (12 December 2023) saw backbench MPs and the Government’s Food Minister in fervent accord on the virtues of supplying high-quality British venison in public service catering, such as in hospitals and schools. 

The Westminster Hall debate concerned ways for public sector food procurement to help promote healthy eating. Sir Charles Walker MP (Broxbourne, Con), the Chair of the Country Food Trust which works to supply game meat to people in need, intervened early on the opening speaker Anthony Magnall MP (Totness, Con) to ask: 

“Is it not the case, given that the Government are embarking on one of the most expensive deer-feeding programmes ever invented—in other words, planting trees to be eaten by 2.5 million deer a year—in order to get the culling effort up to the level of 750,000 where it needs to be, that that high-protein, low-fat meat should be used in public sector kitchens, as it is one of the healthiest meats available in the United Kingdom?” 

Mr Magnall responded: 

“I did not expect the debate to be going in that direction, but I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. How can we get game meat into our schools and places of education? How can we find a better link to that and a better understanding of the food that is in abundance across this country? I think that is a perfectly reasonable and sensible point.” 

Sir Charles continued to press the point to the vegan Kerry McCarthy MP (Bristol East, Lab) with limited success, and at last to the Food Minister, Mark Spencer MP. On the Government’s behalf Mr Spencer was effusive in his concurrence, replying: 

“I wholly accept my hon. Friend’s argument, and it is something we are taking very seriously. Defra is working on a deer strategy. I want to see that meat enter the food chain; we want to ensure that those animals are culled safely and that the meat is processed in the right way to make it available. My hon. Friend is right to say that it is low-fat, high-quality, sustainable, high-welfare meat, which we should make the most of. I commit to helping him with his campaign with Defra officials, to ensure that we can make it happen.” 

The Countryside Alliance has long campaigned to promote the public procurement of venison, including by supporting a pilot scheme of six NHS Trusts trialling pheasant, partridge and venison on their menus as part of a project driven by British Game Assurance. Game meat is perfect for many hospital patients: as Mr Spencer acknowledged it is nutritionally superior, being low in saturated fat and high in vitamins and minerals such as selenium. In tests, it was also easy to consume for patients with swallowing problems. 

Replacing intensively-farmed meat with local venison in the diet not only benefits public health but also the environment, by reducing carbon emissions and supporting culling operations that are essential for maintaining biodiversity. We will continue to stand up for freedom of dietary choice, while encouraging the procurement and consumption of this most healthy and sustainable meat. 

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