Last year I got my grouse at M&S. The birds, I mean. There’s a little fresh meat section in the Kensington branch round the corner from me at work, and it was dead handy to get game there when I was in money. In fact, if you want gastronomic popular elitism, grouse in supermarkets is as close as you get. Simply roasted with buttered breadcrumbs…nothing nicer, really.
Tragically, the treat’s off this year. Mark Avery, the former conservation director of the RSPB, has been lobbying the chief executive Marc Bolland not to stock it, on the basis that ‘if you persist with selling grouse meat, it sends a clear signal that you actively want to support this industry and are siding with an industry that causes environmental damage and is intimately associated with wildlife crime.’ And duly, M&S has sorrowfully declared that ‘we have not been able to secure sufficient numbers of responsibly sourced and third party accredited red grouse’.
It would be churlish to complain about supermarkets taking pains about their sourcing; I mean that’s why some of us go to M&S and Waitrose in the first place. And undeniably, illegal shoots do harm. But in the great scheme of things, is grouse shooting worse when it comes to animal welfare than, say, battery chickens – by no means all M&S poultry is free range? And is the store being unduly pernickety here, under the RSPB bludgeon, than it is in other areas? I seem to recall that back in May when there was uproar about halal meat being flogged to unsuspecting consumers in shops, restaurants and schools (whatever did come of that, incidentally?), M&S was one of the supermarkets named as selling halal lamb, unlabelled. I’m still not sure whether that included animals killed without being stunned first. By comparison with the great halal scandal, grouse shoots are small beer. Yet which issue does it take the high moral ground on? Funny, that.