Venison: The meat that is taking over…

Love it or hate it?

I might have once treated it in the same context as Marmite; a regular on the kitchen table of many and never to enter the threshold of an equal, if not greater, number.

But not anymore it seems. No longer a niche product reserved for the mustard trouser wearing, tally ho hollering, manner house owning types that many have previously (and wrongly) thought, but a publicly and openly enjoyed and increasingly easy to get hold of meal option. It can now be found in more retail outlets and restaurants than ever before.

However this isn’t case of ‘hurrah!’ to an up in the amount of open minds and open mouths willing to get a taste of what was once a stereotypical ‘countryman’s supper’ with pretty negative perceptions. It actually introduces a whole array of challenges and points to consider.

So let’s talk statistics shall we? Kanter Worldpanel research findings show that sales of British venison had reportedly risen by 413% in 2014 from 1.2m to 6.4m. It also states that total UK sales(so including imports) rose from £32m to £43m from 2006-09. Basically it’s such a big deal they’ve quoted the retail market in the UK for venison as growing at between 10% and 25% per year. This is all according to Food Health Innovation.

This gives us the proof that the UK really is accepting venison for what it really can be; good quality meat that is actually pretty damn good for you too. Don’t believe me? Well venison is high in protein and low in fat, something that a lot of consumers are actively looking for in their diets these days.

Back to Food Health Innovation and we’re told that venison actually has more protein than any other red meat, even beef. They also tell us ‘It is also particularly rich in iron, which is good for anaemia and is good for energy levels. It’s full of vitamins: B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin), which helps regulate metabolism and vitamin B6 and B12. It is also low in fat and cholesterol…’

This is all pretty interesting stuff, but where do we actually get our venison from? How does it get to our shops, to our ovens, to our plates? Scotland is a big deal in our supply, as well as to European markets with, according to The Venison Advisory Service, ‘a current estimated out turn of some 3,500 tonnes per annum’ The majority of this coming from the red deer cull. They also tell us that ‘in 2011, the two main game dealers serving Scotland imported in excess of 25,000 deer carcasses (over 1000 tonnes) from farms in New Zealand, Poland and elsewhere in Northern Europe to keep pace with demand.’ Now you don’t need me to tell you that’s a lot, and if demand has been increasing ever since…

Boggled by the figures? Well yeah, I don’t blame you, IT’S A LOT. So, what are we, the UK, going to do about it? Here we have a growing industry on our doorstep that many feel we may utilise and really make the most of.

Even ready meals, a (let’s be honest) traditionally tacky business area has introduced venison options (now I’m pretty sure they’re not aimed at the manor house occupiers…) and both Lidl and Aldi have their value versions. To put it simply, we love it venison.

But back to what happens now… The Courier publication tells us that ‘The Scottish deer sector has ambitions to produce an extra 1,000 tonnes of Venison a year by 2020, a target which would require an additional 22,000 farmed deer on the ground… To help meet this ambition, the Deer Farm and Park Demonstration Project has been launched to encourage more farmers into deer farming.’ Dick Playfair, from the Scottish Venison Partnership, is quoted as saying “What we’re trying to do is fill the vacuum that’s been created by that drop in the wild red cull.” He also said “We need 22,000 deer, and that’s the out turn of 300 deer farms of significant size, or 400 of the same size that we have here at the moment.”

Now to me this sounds more like what I want to hear, a rise in demand of venison meat and a decrease in the cull of red deer sounds like something the UK needs to really make the most of. Deer farming could preserve our countryside and keep as much business as possible within the UK. It also means we can feel reassured about the meat we’re eating… A lot of people will probably hear about deer farms without knowing anything about the situation and start hitting back with cruelty to animals and such like, but if you’re happy to eat cows and sheep and chicken from a farm then this is no different. The government even has a section on its website that discusses the ‘good practice and duty of care for deer’, which references compliance requirements, Statutory Management Requirements, feed and food law, animal disease and animal welfare rights. So there you go, just in case you need to set your mind to rest, or someone else’s!

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