Eating Wild vs. The ethics of food production

"...wild fish stocks have been decimated for the benefit of financial gain backed by the Scottish government..."

Cutting through the bottom of Sweden, I am just over 3000miles through a 4000mile trip to Norway as I contemplate this month’s conservation contribution to Sporting Rifle. Ten countries in just over a month, I can barely tell you what month it is never mind what’s the day of the week. It was a Friday as we left the south of Norway having spent two weeks near Alesund filming for the project 62North. We were now two days into the moose season. I would soon be heading back to Sweden in search of bear, moose and caper, but our encounters with reindeer, muskox and reds compounded the bonds of friendship forged. We had become richer for the experience and culture. It struck me as we wound our way through the sprawling southern forests just how many hunters we encountered by the road side, assembled in preparation for the opening days of the moose season. We must have passed more than a hundred people over the space of two hours that morning.

The acceptance of hunting in Norway was quite staggering when I compare it to Scotland. With similar populations, the proportion of hunters in Norway is very obviously far greater once you spend a few weeks here. It’s the little things one notices. Like drying your rifle in the warmth of the fireplace at the hotel, and not getting a second glance from hikers while trekking popular mountain routes to access distant grounds. It seemed every second person we spoke with in the rural areas either hunted or new someone who did and could help us.

Despite our first hunting location being many hours from any decent population mass, the first Scottish connection came not in any great cultural wonder but in the adjacent fish farm, owned by Marine Harvest. Indeed, there was a fascinating unknown Scottish influence in this area, evident by the tweed cloth found in clothing post the Black Death, although it's unclear how this occurred.

However, it was the fish farm which provided the catalyst for my writing.

Having recently finished filming a project for Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland and being a Trustee of the Esk Rivers and Fisheries Trust, I am all too aware of the damage salmon aquaculture has done to the west coast wild fisheries of Scotland, much of which has been under the banner of big business such as Marine Harvest Scotland. Our wild fish stocks have been decimated for the benefit of financial gain backed by the Scottish government. It’s a disgusting example of a wildlife travesty, which in terms of sea-trout was likely preventable with the right governance and the foresight. Clearly the future of our wildlife isn’t that important.

Of course, such enterprises exist because of demand, and although there are unquestionably better practice which should be implemented so as not impact on natural stocks, the global demand for food and resulting modern systems for production puts blood on everyone's hands, meat eaters and vegans alike. Palm oil is an often quoted and discussed case in point.

For anyone who has cared to look at human evolution, it is clear that our rise as hunters is what carried us to the apex status we hold today, while the consumption of wild meat is was central to our intellectual development.

There is no getting away from the fact that it’s only because our ancestors were meat hunters that the human species has been as successful as it is today at conquering the globe. Of course, some aspects of society struggle to deal with this home truth.

Never in our history have we been more aware of our impact on the planet, and in the grand scheme little is being done to reduce our drain. The hard truth is there are too many people and if we really want to preserve the planet twenty generations ahead of us, we need to reverse the rise. Our unsustainability is acknowledged by most people, even if the general acceptance is that nothing they can do will change it. Indeed, is there any truly sustainable food production? Well yes. Our ancestors achieved it long before organised large scale agriculture. It was the hunting of wild populations. Today we couldn’t possibly sustain our populations with wild game alone.

Maybe a human population at a level which could be sustained by wild populations would in fact be the magic formula. The sad truth is that the advancement of agriculture and farming practices have helped propagate human populations far beyond sustainable levels.

As hunters we receive constant criticism, not just for being disgusting human beings” but also for being responsible for species decline. As I have written here before, not only do hunters contribute an inordinate amount of money for conservation around the world, but they are fundamental to the recovery and sustainability of many species. When we look at global impact, not only do hunters help to reduce the overall demand of farmed protein, but their interactions and harvesting of wild meat is for the most part positive and not negative. The same cannot be said for commercial production.

Little thought is given by hunting critics to their small contribution to the global demise as they lambast the only people on the planet helping to curtail our unsustainable thirst for higher yielding production.

Leave aquiculture behind and look at the rapping of wild fisheries across the planet. Mass deletions of once abundant species are pushing the resilience of these marine ecosystems to the very edge of their ability to recover, and all supplying the demand for human consumption, either for ourselves or our pets. This puts at risk not only the planet, but millions of people’s livelihoods as well as our very existence.

Common agriculture faces similar issues, with the increased use of fertilisers, antibiotics and the destruction of wild lands to facilitate ever increasing demand. Let's not even talk about animal welfare issues when it comes to livestock. We may have high standards to adhere to in the U.K. but much of the world doesn’t, and the treatment of animals for the purposes of human consumption is often abhorrently disturbing. Even in a world so connected with the Internet, and information available at the click of a button, the vast majority turn a blind eye to the cruelty happening around them. People simply don’t want to know. To acknowledge it would have implications too far reaching to contemplate.

Compare and contrast this with the harvest of wild game, be that fur or feather and it seems like a non-argument. This forms possibly the strongest position for hunters, as the provision of wild meat, sourced in a sustainable manner, is not only the cleanest, leanest protein available, it achieves this provision with the greatest respect to the welfare of the animals. Anyone unwilling to accept this fact is beyond reason.