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How eating wild game meat fits into low-carbon lifestyles

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I hope 2021 will in future be seen as the year when the shift toward living a ‘low-carbon’ lifestyle started to become the new normal.

A point where we all began making everyday choices so as to reduce our own ‘carbon footprint’.

A strong message that came out of ‘COP26’ was that we particularly need to consider what we eat and how our food is grown. We need to support sustainable food production.

Roe deer buck.
Roe deer buck.

It is established that a lot of meat production has a massive carbon footprint and if we all ate less meat, we could significantly reduce global CO2 emissions. So – how did you do over Christmas?!

Intensively farmed meat, where stock is fed on grain and manufactured foodstuffs, is generally agreed to be bad for the environment. For example, you can need 10 times more land and much more energy to produce 1kg of meat compared to a vegetarian equivalent.

Other problems with intensive meat production include animal welfare, a range of other environmental issues and our own health.

British farmers have argued that grass-fed stock in the UK (i.e. what we regard as ‘traditional’ farming), is not the main problem and, compared to say North American ‘feed lots’, there is some truth in this. But you cannot dodge the fact that even in the UK, farmed meat production, especially beef and mutton, produces a lot of greenhouse gases.

Pork and poultry production is generally agreed to have a lower carbon footprint, but is often related to other environmental issues such as water pollution. Basically, if we carry on as ‘normal’ we are unlikely to create a sustainable low-carbon food supply system.

Wild game meat is generally overlooked in future food supply planning, although it is potentially the most sustainable meat production of all, and being low-fat it can be a healthy option as well. And if my observations locally are anything to go by, it is increasingly plentiful.

On a recent 45-minute train trip to Cambridge, occasionally looking out of my window, I saw over 30 roe deer and countless muntjac. If that is possible, whatever is the current population of deer on the Fens today? And think of the number of deer carcasses you now see beside the road.

I also recently saw a flock of wood pigeons in North Norfolk that could have numbered ten thousand, whilst hundreds of greylag, Canadian and Egyptian geese can now be found on most every inland lake.

Whilst I don’t want to be too homocentric about our relationship with nature (everything has a right to live and I think our tendency to assess all resources simply in terms of how humans can exploit them can be depressing) – I do think a case could be made that sustainable management of our local game resources would produce good quality food with minimal impact to the environment.

Harvesting game could also fit well with rewilding projects, where areas of scrub woodland and grasslands would have benefits for carbon sequestration, enhancing biodiversity and also perhaps, sustainable meat production.

So butchers – have you considered offering more local game products for customers? I think there would be a market.


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