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Rabbits for the table – what’s the law on selling wild food?

Simon Whitehead offers some advice

Winchester Wildcat .22 LR semiautomatic

Laying in wait for rabbits to appear, the accuracy even with the red dot sight fitted and CCI Suppressor rounds bagged 8 rabbits at the end of the day. Laying in wait for rabbits to appear, the accuracy even with the red dot sight fitted and CCI Suppressor rounds bagged 8 rabbits at the end of the day.

What are the laws and insurances needed when it comes to selling wild food?

If you shoot or ferret rabbits can you give them away or sell them on?  A reader contacted me recently saying that his local butcher, to whom he used to supply rabbits, has said that a certificate and insurance is needed to supply rabbits to the public. Is this true?

Law on selling wild food

The butcher is right. The sale of food is governed by laws and insurances but when it comes to wild game, we have a legal loophole called the hunters’ exemption.

The Food Standards Agency says: “If you shoot wild game only for your own private consumption, or to give away to family and friends for private consumption on an occasional basis, you are not a food business operator.” (Find all our rabbit recipes here.)

Rabbit pie

Rabbit pie is perfect for taking on picnics

However if you want to provide pubs or restaurants with rabbits the rabbits will have to 
be prepared in an environment that passes all the local authority’s food 
and hygiene inspections and criteria. (You’ll probably find this article on selling game without going through a game dealer useful.)

You need 
to register with your local authority 
as a food business, have a preparation area that passes all inspections, have a legal means of disposing of the waste and be able to document every rabbit prepared and processed, where and when and who received them. Traceability is the most important word in this process. Do you need insurance to sell the odd rabbit? That is something you would have to look into.

There is some very comprehensive information here on the Food Standard’s Agency Wild Game Guide which goes through various scenarios and the law on selling wild food.  It also details any changes which have occurred since the UK left the EU.

lamping rabbits

Game suppliers out lamping rabbits

(from the 2010 Shooting UK archives)

One recent evening. Phil Miles, who owns Godmersham Game Dealers, and local keeper and game supplier Daniel, had both kindly agreed to take me out lamping rabbits .

The night was dry and clear. Tonight, Phil would shoot, Daniel would drive and pick-up, and I would operate the lamp.

Phil was equipped with a .22 Brno with a 10-shot magazine for the rabbits and had also brought along his Sako .243 stalking rifle in case he had an opportunity to shoot a fox. We were out on a fair-sized partridge and pheasant shoot, so Daniel was keen to take any foxes that we saw.

An early success

Daniel drove us down the drive and switched his headlights off as we turned into the first stubble field. I swept the lamp from left to right and as I reached the 12 o’clock position, three pairs of eyes were hopping across the field towards the hedge. Phil got into position, using the roof of the vehicle as a rest, and took the first and the third as they paused briefly in the orange glow of the lamp before they could hop towards the cover of the hedge line. There were two rabbits in the bag in about the same number of minutes, and as I scanned the stubble with the lamp, there were plenty.

Swinging round to the left, another five rabbits froze briefly in the lamplight, allowing Phil to take two more, which we’d come back for in a second. We disturbed some partridges as we drove on again slowly in a U-shape to the top of the field, but there were several rabbits out on the stubble. Phil tapped on the roof and Daniel stopped to allow him to take another shot, resulting in another rabbit in the bag. As I scanned the lamp round we caught the glimpse of another three rabbits hopping into the covert to safety.

Salt Baked Rabbit

A very good rabbit recipe – salt baked rabbit by Cai Ap Bryn

From field to chiller

Daniel controls the rabbits and foxes on his shoot as well as on several neighbouring farms. The rabbit population is such that he is often out lamping five nights a week.

Though we were not aiming for a big commercial bag for Phil to take back to his chiller on the evening of my visit, we ended up with 20 rabbits in the bag after several hours, using an orange filter on the lamp and Phil’s Brno .22.

Phil and Daniel set to work paunching them, both wearing gloves for hygiene reasons and because the rabbits smell strongly. “It takes a while to get the smell out of your hands and rabbit is actually one of the few game species that I can’t dress out and eat the same day,” said Phil.

“They’ll hang for a few days in the chiller now and then we’ll process them for sale.”

This article was originally published in 2018 and has been updated.