Quality Assurance key to the Wild Venison sector

14 July, 2015
Jonathan Whitehead

Jonathan Whitehead has worked for Acoura for around eight years, and is currently Livestock Schemes Technical Manager for the Agriculture Division. Prior to his work with the group, Jonathan was involved in farm management, the animal feeds industry and quality control within the meat processing sector. He has managed Acoura’s game and venison assurance schemes for the past six years.

"My role requires me to be involved in almost everything and anything within the Livestock Schemes that Acoura are involved in. I work to review clients’ quality assurance standards as well as help develop and strengthen the venison and game schemes we manage. My position also sees me work closely with the RSPCA and their welfare scheme Freedom Food, carrying out pig sector inspections for both QMS and Freedom Food themselves.

Despite all this, I am perhaps most heavily involved in the venison and wild game schemes and work across a number of areas in these sectors. The three main areas of work are:

 

Scottish Quality Wild Venison Ltd (SQWV), a quality assurance scheme for wild stalked venison; Deer Farm Demonstration Project; British Deer Farm and Parks Association (BDFPA). I also managed a large project for the Food Standard Agency on ‘wild game meat hygiene controls feasibility study’, work with the leading game dealers on wild game related projects and deliver training seminars for vets on game meat hygiene.

 

Our work within SQWV sees myself and a colleague undertake all aspects of the quality assurance process, from evaluating potential new members, to liaising with existing members of the scheme to ensure inspections take place. Businesses approved by SQWV can often benefit from a premium for their venison from game dealers, so there is a real incentive to membership.

For the food industry and retailers there is a significant difference between wild game and farmed animals, including farmed deer. Farmed animals are managed and slaughtered in tightly controlled environments.  Whereas wild venison is stalked and shot in the wild,  gralloched in the field, and then removed to a  larder and chiller for further processing and storage prior to collection by the game dealer.

The SQWV scheme standards ensure that animal welfare and food safety are not compromised by the environment of the cull and subsequent carcass handling.  Stalkers have to be trained to a level above that recognised as acceptable by the FSA as sufficient to understand the relevant food hygiene legislation.  Larders and chillers have to be constructed in such a way as to ensure that carcasses are handled and stored under the best conditions.  Prior to dispatch to the game dealers, stalkers sign a Trained Hunter Declaration to state that following both pre and post mortem examination they believe the venison is safe to enter the food chain.  At the game dealers Meat Hygiene Inspectors and Official Veterinarians carry out further inspections before the carcass can go forward into the food chain.  

Compared with the rest of the red meat sector wild venison is a huge growth market, especially for the supermarkets, who are increasingly stocking wild game under their own brand labels.  A quality assurance scheme is essential to ensure that the food is not only safe, but that the meat quality ensures it is good to eat. This can only be achieved when best practice is applied throughout the supply chain.

The rapid growth in venison sales can be attributed to a number of factors, including quality, health messaging and the fact it is a fashionable meat. Venison is leaner than chicken or fish, but has a higher iron content, making it popular with both foodies and athletes.

Assured Scottish wild venison carries a premium with retailers and consumers, and the work is already underway investigating the possibility of Protected Geographical Integrity (PGI) status for Scottish Wild Venison."

For more information, and to find out how can help you, contact us on 0330 024 0255, info@acoura.com, www.acoura.com

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