Venison import fears


Venison imports could dramatically eclipse domestic production volumes in the next five years, the Scottish Venison Partnership (SVP) has warned. 

With Scottish Venison Day approaching on 4 September, the SVP is forecasting that if UK market trends continue the UK will be importing more than double the amount of venison it does now in five years time.

The SVP estimates that the total annual UK venison outturn is now 3,800 tonnes. About 70% of this comes from Scotland’s wild red deer cull, with other species, Scottish farmed and wild, and farmed from the rest of the UK making up the difference, the data suggests.

However, imports from New Zealand stood at 17,000 carcase equivalents or 900 tonnes in 2015, with additional product coming into the UK from Poland, Ireland, Spain and other European countries.

"The UK imports around one third of the venison that it consumes," said SVP chairman Bill Bewsher. "We export to Europe about one third of what we produce – mostly venison from roe deer and late season red from stags, although this will vary subject to fluctuations in the Euro exchange rate. 

"We import farmed venison, which gives consistency in terms of age, colour, eatability and conformation of the meat, because as yet the UK does not produce enough volume from its own farmed stock."

The number of deer farms is increasing in the UK. Scottish deer farmers are now also eligible for the Basic Payment, having been excluded until two years ago, and the Scottish government has been supporting initiatives such as the Deer Farm and Park Demonstration Project.

While there have been various claims about UK market growth, SVP estimates about a 10% increase year-on-year and, on this basis, UK consumption of venison will grow from 3,800 to more than 6,000 tonnes by 2021.

However if domestic production only increased by 5% per annum, imports would be double what they are now by 2020 to meet UK market demand and account for almost 50% of UK venison consumption by 2021, SVP claimed.

"Our latest estimates are that the UK production capacity, wild and farmed, will total some 4,800 tonnes by 2021 of which up to one third may be exported," said Bewsher. "To fulfill UK market demand this would mean importing almost 3,000 tonnes, which is clearly good news for the New Zealand deer industry and for venison producers in Europe.

Scottish Venison Day is a focal point for the Scottish Venison sector, and those who produce, stock, sell or serve Scottish venison are encouraged to raise the profile of the product at this time, although, with increasing demand and a growing market, venison is no longer seasonal in availability.

A number of the bigger Scottish deer forests, important wild venison producers through the stag and hind seasons, are likely also to find themselves in the firing line to pay business rates from which they had previously been exempt since 1995. That exemption has now been removed under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016.

"Deer management covers many facets - deer welfare and maintaining a deer herd in good health, ensuring that deer numbers are sustainable in terms of the environment and other land uses, providing employment and, not least, ensuring supply of a healthy food," Bewsher added.

"A study undertaken by PACEC consultants in 2014 found that deer management in Scotland overall contributes an estimated £140m each year to the Scottish economy and supports 2,500 full-time jobs."

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