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Game farmers put EU poult exports under the spotlight

EU-wide industry protocols for importing game birds to the UK need to be revised, according to the Game Farmers? Association (GFA).

The call comes after more than 2,500 dead or dying pheasant and partridge chicks – presumed to be imported from France – were found by the RSPCA dumped in boxes in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, in July.

?The GFA would like to reassure game farmers that it is currently investigating the incident with the co-operation of the RSPCA,? said GFA chairman, Jonathan Crow.

He added: ?All the evidence points to a dumping from a Continental delivery lorry that had a breakdown of some sort, causing the majority of the birds to die from heat stress in transit. Whatever the reason, this is wholly unacceptable and UK farmers are rightly angry that this could be seen to reflect on them. We believe we may have tracked down the supplier responsible and we will be lobbying for some sort of protocol to be put in place to stop this happening again.?

Mr Crow added the GFA will also be approaching Continental game farms to enquire about their contingency plans for dealing with ?in transit? mortality.

?If nothing is in place then we need assurances from the game farmers that in future they are aware of their legal requirement to notify Animal Health, which will arrange to have dying birds destroyed. Dead stock will be dealt with by Trading Standards. This course of action obviously applies as much to UK farms as to those who are importing stock,? he said.

The 33 boxes of day-old poults were discovered by RSPCA inspector John Groarke.

Mr Groarke told Shooting Times magazine that of the 2,590 chicks that were found, 54 were rescued and only three remain alive.

?Obviously the longer this investigation goes on, the colder the trail goes and, so far, DEFRA has not been overly co-operative. We are aware of three shoots in Derbyshire, Cheshire and North Yorkshire that did not receive their bird orders, however DEFRA would not disclose the names of the shoots. We are confident the chicks came from France as the boxes they were contained in are typical of French game farms and they had French writing on the sides.?

British game farmers are very concerned this event will tarnish the reputation of the UK game farming industry.

Stephen Tonkes, of Spindle Wood Game Farm in Suffolk, told Shooting Times the incident is indicative of the current economic climate: ?I am angry that someone would do this, but I am not surprised. I think the order was probably cancelled at the last minute, which has been happening a lot this year. The driver may have panicked and dumped the birds rather than going through the rigmarole of taking them back to France, if that is where they came from.?

?It is appalling to think that this incident could tarnish the British game farming industry. The French will no doubt say that we are just using them as a scapegoat to cover up our own bad industry practice.?

Tim Farr, of Welland Valley Game in Leicestershire, welcomed the news the GFA is taking decisive action to preserve the reputation of British game farmers: ?It is a very unfortunate incident, but we are all struggling to sell birds so I am not that surprised. I am a big believer in supporting British game farms and do not see the need to look abroad for chicks or eggs. I can see incidents like this happening more and more. The GFA is right to be questioning what contingency plans foreign farmers have when delivering birds. I am looking forward to the GFA?s findings.?

To report information, contact the RSPCA, tel 0300 1234 999.

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