Organic is now the way to go, if you read the newspapers, but game cannot be officially organic because the animals are truly free range
Only a tiny proportion of game meat is officially “organic”. Game meat is free range or wild, healthy and nutritious but the label “organic” was captured by the organic farming movement long ago. You can only use it when the meat has been produced under an accredited organic regime. This is almost impossible under wild game conditions, because you cannot guarantee that the animals won’t have any contact with synthetic chemicals during their wanderings.
I know a bit about the organic system because part of my own farm was certified organic, once. I put it into conversion as an experiment. I have always had an instinctive feeling that farming without synthetic chemicals was a worthy aim. In my own case, however, I became disillusioned — not with the principles of the organic movement but with the dogmatic attitude of its self-appointed guardians.
It took three years before the small part of my farm that I had earmarked for conversion was certified as organic. There are several certifying bodies, of which the best known is the Soil Association (SA), which was the one I signed up to. At first, all went well. I was producing organic venison from a small captive herd of red deer that thrived under the organic regime with minimal intervention. By contrast, the sheep on the rest of the farm were always being brought into the pens for worming or whatever.
However, I soon noticed that at the time nobody would pay more for my organic venison than they would pay for ordinary venison. There was no financial benefit. In fact, there was a disadvantage, because I was having to pay a hefty fee for an annual inspection by the SA.
In any case, I’m not sure the SA was particularly geared up for park deer in those days. It kept asking about my “stock-handling facilities”. It also wanted paperwork to show that I could slaughter deer humanely. Luckily, I had passed my Deerstalking Certificate 2 in March 2000 — I was one of the first to do so — and this kept the officials happy. They like certificates.
On one occasion, an inspector spotted that some of my farmyard poultry had wandered through the deer fence into the organic fields. “Are those hens organic?” she asked, sternly. “Because they will be defecating on the grass that the organic deer are going to eat.” I pointed out that exactly the same applied to any wild birds flying in, but she frowned and made a note in her report.
The crunch came when we had a very snowy winter. The deer needed supplementary feeding and I ran out of organic hay. I had plenty of silage, but it wasn’t certified organic. I tried to get some organic hay trucked in but the haulier couldn’t get through the snow.
Game shooting community ensures nothing goes to waste as the market for game meat expands, Game-to-Eat campaign report shows.
Sales of venison have increased by £5million in a year, with supermarkets expanding their range to supply the growing demand
I rang the SA and asked for permission to use just a few of my own silage bales, harvested from low-input grassland, for a week or two. The SA said no. I asked if I could exclude the deer in question from organic status. Again, the SA said no.
Faced with a conflict between animal welfare and the rigidity of organic officialdom, I chose animal welfare. I resigned my hard-won organic status on the spot. Then I fed my deer. Today, the descendants of those deer are still doing very well under what is an organic regime. But they are no longer officially “organic”.