Are red grouse safe to eat? Don’t rely on Government testing to tell you

grit-box-rpuk2-copyAbout eighteen months ago in October 2015 we wrote a blog about the use of medicated grit to dose red grouse with a parasitic wormer drug called Flubendazole.

We’d learned that this practice was largely unregulated (surprise!), that some grouse moor managers were using a super-strength drug that was 10 times, and sometimes 20 times, the strength permitted for use in the UK, and, most incredibly, that the Government’s statutory agency (Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)) responsible for monitoring meat to ensure harmful drugs are not entering the human food chain, had not ever tested a single red grouse for residues of Flubendazole because, they said, they didn’t know where to find dead red grouse (see here).

It was shocking stuff. When we pointed out to the so-called specialists at the VMD that dead red grouse could be found at the same processing facilities where the VMD was already testing other gamebirds for veterinary residues (duh), the VMD promised to start testing red grouse in 2016.

So, we waited until the end of the 2016 grouse shooting season and submitted an FoI to the VMD to ask them how many individual red grouse they’d tested in 2016 in England & Scotland, and from how many geographically separate grouse moors the birds had originated, and a few other things too.

The VMD’s response is staggering. Here it is:


So in 2016, the VMD managed to test four red grouse from England and two from Scotland. That’s it. And they apparently don’t have a record of where those six samples originated, which is very hard to believe. What would happen if the samples were found to contain illegal residues of this veterinary drug? Would the VMD just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Sorry, can’t take any action ‘cos we’re too incompetent to have recorded the site of origin’?

We wondered what proportion of the 2016 red grouse bag this ludicrously small sample size represented. Unfortunately we’ve been unable to find out how many red grouse were shot during the 2016 shooting season because there is no statutory requirement for the grouse shooting industry to record these data, let alone publish them. The GWCT apparently maintains a record of the national bag but who’s going to believe their figures, especially when their Director of Research is on record as saying information about grouse moor management should be “kept under the radar” in case the regulators start sniffing around?

What we did find, though, was an estimate of the number of red grouse shot in the UK in 2012/2013 (source: PACEC report 2014).


So let’s assume this estimate of 700,000 shot red grouse was applicable to the 2016 shooting season. Does the VMD believe that sampling six out of 700,000 is a good indicator of compliance?

So if you choose to eat red grouse, that so-called “natural” and “healthy” product (see hereherehere and here), bear in mind that not only has that meat probably not been tested for veterinary medicine residues and pesticides, but it also won’t have been tested for toxic lead either (because for some strange reason, gamebird meat is exempt from lead testing).

Bon appetit!

Ps. For anyone interested in the VMD’s wider sampling regime in 2016 (e.g. cattle, sheep etc), this spreadsheet is helpful: national-statutory-surveillance-scheme-for-veterinary-residues-in-animals-and-animal-products_2016

20 Responses to “Are red grouse safe to eat? Don’t rely on Government testing to tell you”

  1. 1 Roberta Mouse
    March 3, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Farmed animals are proactively given all kinds of stuff to make farmer’s lives easier also..it’s better to just be vegan. Whether these poor birds are ‘safe to eat’ or not, forcing them to consume this crap doubtless makes them feel like hell during their short miserable lives. !

    • 2 dave angel
      March 3, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      If we were all vegan then there would be no farm animals. So instead of these ‘poor’ farm animals having ‘short miserable lives’, they wouldn’t have any lives at all. Which I suppose is OK if you’re a vegan, but maybe not so good if you’re a farm animal.

      And anyone concerned about either the welfare of farm animals or the risk of consuming any dodgy residues has the option of buying organically produced meat.

  2. 3 steve macsweeney
    March 3, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Interesting indeed, especially compared to the numbers and details recorded in their spread sheet of farmed animals and fish. I have never heard of a Grouse slaughterhouse. Do the slaughtered birds derive from grouse moors? Your persistence redefines the word, tho’ I suspect you may just have discovered another brick wall to cheerlessly bash your head against.
    I await your book!

  3. 4 crypticmirror
    March 3, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    How much would we need to raise in funds to have private tests carried out? I know they’d have no force in law, what does with grouse shooting, but it might be good to get some sort of information on this despicable practice.

    • 5 Michael Whitehouse
      March 3, 2017 at 5:06 pm

      I very much agree with your point. It is a logical and very practical step to take. I for one would be happy to donate. Crowdfunding seems to be working for BAWC.

      Perhaps the tests for Flubendazole carried out on grouse by VMD were masked by the presence of lumps of lead!

  4. 6 Jo
    March 3, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    Different drugs are metabolised at various rates and remain in any system for differing lengths of time. If routine testing for Flubendazole has not been carried out previously, what levels are being used to decide whether (any) levels found are compliant?

  5. March 3, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    Anyone for grouse marinated in Fubendazole with a side serving of lead ?
    Guaranteed to have been hanging around for some time after a relatively stressful & possibly lingering death in an environment where most predators have been driven to extinction or if present, have been snared,poisoned,shot,trapped or trampled to death along with the bi – catch ?
    lovely !
    Bon appetit indeed !

    I just love the concept of a grouse slaughterhouse ?!…….. Oh….. did they mean burnt heather moorland subsidised by the public purse probably located in one of our famous National Parks or other scenic areas ? !

    Keep up the pressure !

  6. 8 AlanTwo
    March 3, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Are others as appalled as I am that about 160,000 woodcock and 110,000 snipe and other waders are shot each year?

    • 9 tom raven
      March 3, 2017 at 8:17 pm

      yes, that was the figure that really stood out for me. yet another wildlife catastrophe over which we have total control as humans yet do nothing about, to please a very few incredibly selfish, repugnant people

    • March 3, 2017 at 9:20 pm

      Yes I am appalled too. These bastards need tight regulation.

    • 12 heclasu
      March 4, 2017 at 2:32 am

      I too am appalled. It is an ‘obscenity’ practiced widely in autumn in the southern Western Isles – some foreigners, but quite a few Merchant Wankers** from the south as well. The latter, especially, believe themselves to be above the law. As one arsehole once bragged to his ‘pals’ in a bar after a ‘woodcock’ shoot, “I had absoloootly no ideah what I was shootin’ at’. (many guffaws of approval). When challenged by myself as to why he shot it if he didn’t know what he was shooting at, embarrassed silence and much shuffling of feet! Much later on, one of the Estate syndicate tried to pour oil on the waters by suggesting to us that there were too many ‘pigeons’ on the crofts. He was, of course, referring to Rock Doves which, at that time were virtually ‘pure’ and not tainted by cross-breeding. Another one kicked in the bollocks (metaphorically of course) although I would have loved to have really done it! These people are just not happy unless they are killing something – in many cases, anything.

      The sad thing is, when out shooting these birds, especially snipe, (which is ‘driven’ BTW), anything that gets up in front of them is blasted, They just don’t give a fuck! For that reason alone, it needs to be banned.

      **No misprint – I have yet to meet one who isn’t!

  7. 13 Gerard
    March 3, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    I have been speaking to someone re method development to detect this drug at small concentrations in biological matrices, We need to get some money to carry out research on this (any suggestions). Once the method is fully developed then you only need to send us your grouse samples and we will be able to test them. Apparently the RSPB and Natural England wont fund it because it is too politically charged.

  8. 14 keen birder
    March 3, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    Very sad indeed, woodcock and snipe need to be removed from the quarry (target species), theres appeals out from GWCT highlighting their decline, simple answer stop shooting them to start with, simple as that.

  9. March 4, 2017 at 12:42 am

    It would be great if it was that simple, however, although I am also in favour of tight regulation on shooting Woodcock & Snipe since the sport is not proven to be sustainable when it is very intensive , their longer & medium term decline is , I fear, anything but simple.
    A large proportion of those shot are migrants which is not a reason to continue shooting them & the intensity of shooting in the UK may well impact on breeding populations to the east of the North Sea, but does underline the fact that the breeding population in the UK is suffering from a huge array of problems e.g. drainage, changes in agriculture & forestry, deer numbers [locally exponentially increasing wild boar numbers which have few predators & unlike the lack of control exerted by eagles on mountain hare populations, boar are limited to an extent by wolf & other predators such as humans ],climate change,increased predation [ yes Goshawks do impact on other bird species populations in the UK where Goshawk predators are currently largely absent ] & no doubt many other subtle environmental changes that we are not even aware of yet.
    There are indeed few simple solutions to complex changes in species population density, output & distribution.

    And no !, the declines cannot be put down to increasing boar & Goshawk alone [ before the clamour erupts ] !
    The undoubted fact that Woodcock & Snipe [ & mountain hares ] are fascinating,cute, beautiful etc. is also not a good or wise argument to rely on in the harvesting / culling / sporting debate.

    The massive declines in Europe’s wildfowl populations are another big current issue & unregulated shooting is being highlighted as a factor in recent research along with the continued prevalence of lead in the aquatic environment derived from shotgun cartridges, often illegally discharged over water.

    The need for tight regulation of all shooting [ & lead ammunition ] is a global issue….. as is pollution, water conservation, plastics, toxins,veterinary drugs, antibiotics,carbon, the pet trade,deforestation, desertification, overfishing, alien species,transport infrastructure, GM.
    ………….time for bed……& simple dreams…..

    Keep up the pressure !

  10. March 5, 2017 at 2:23 am

    I believe Raptor Persecution previously reported on a PhD research project at Leeds and York Universities to investigate the presence of Flubendazole pollution in moorland soils and water supplies deriving from them. See: http://www.nercdtp.leeds.ac.uk/projects/index.php?id=527 A bit of serious science might well shed some useful light on this topic.

    Here in the Peak District, parts of Kinder Scout really need flagging up as a health and safety trip hazard, because of all the little white sticks and plastic trays of medicine lying around everywhere (even on land owned by The National Trust . . .hence our petition).

  11. 17 Paul V Irving
    March 5, 2017 at 8:08 am

    nationally there are not that many grouse moors and it cannot be beyond the wit of the VMD that they ought to be testing at least one grouse from each estate at the beginning of each shooting season. Should that bird test positive for a more than allowed the residue of flubendazole ( whatever that may be and is there one) they should confirm with further tests from said estate and/or ban grouse from that estate from entering the human food chain. You would think it should be that simple and straightforward.

  12. 18 Carole
    March 5, 2017 at 11:45 am

    You would think the Food Standards Agency would take an interest in this. Oh no, I forgot, the Chairman is Heather Hancock, whose husband owns and leases grouse moors. Say no more.

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