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article imageSquirrel meat 'flies off shelves' as activists fight sales in UK

By Stephanie Dearing     Aug 1, 2010 in Business
London - Sustainable meat or an animal rights sacrilege? That's the dividing line that has developed since a United Kingdom grocery store decided to offer squirrel meat to shoppers.
Beleagered Budgens store owner Andrew Thornton has no plans to stop selling grey squirrel meat, even though his decision to offer the meat in his London Crouch End shop has earned him protests from animal rights activists.
The sale of squirrel meat in the Budgens' grocery store commenced five months ago. Shop owner, Thornton, told press he was offering the meat after receiving requests from customers.
A UK animal rights group, Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (VIVA) has issued a press release accusing Budgens of "... cashing in on ‘wildlife massacre’." The release goes on to allege "... Budgens are supporting the barbaric and needless ‘cull’ of thousands of grey Squirrels across the UK, alongside the cruel and needless fashion of eating ‘wild meat’, by permitting the independently owned branch in Crouch End, North London, to sell the animal."
The cull VIVA has accused Budgens of participating in, is one that seeks to reduce the numbers of Grey squirrels in the UK to make things easier for the red squirrel. VIVA accuses people of killing the Grey squirrels "barbarically," through clubbing and Warfarin. Warfarin is a poison that was commonly used for rats. An anti-coagulant, Warfarin kills by causing internal bleeding. It often takes animals days to die from the poison. The poison remains in the bodies of the dead animals, and other creatures who eat rats or mice poisoned with Warfarin can themselves become poisoned. Today, Warfarin is commonly used as a human medication.
Grey squirrels are not native to the United Kingdom, and the animals have been culled periodically in an attempt to keep their population in check. A large-scale cull in 2007-2008 saw 20,000 Grey squirrels killed, reported the Telegraph. The Grey squirrels have readily adapted to life in the United Kingdom, but have squeezed out the native Red Squirrel. The Grey squirrels are culled under the organization of the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership.
Founder and director of VIVA, Juliet Gellatley criticized Thornton, saying "If this store is attempting to stand out from the crowd by selling squirrel, the only message they are giving out is that they are happy to have the blood of a beautiful wild animal on their hands for the sake of a few quid.”
But store owner Andrew Thornton stands by his decision, saying squirrel meat is sustainable. The Guardian reported Thornton as saying "There are too many squirrels around, we might as well eat them rather than cull them and dispose of them." Thornton defended his decision to sell the meat, telling the Guardian selling a dozen squirrels per week "... I don't think that falls into the definition of a massacre."
There was a time when squirrel meat was eaten in the United Kingdom and in North America. Now making a come-back, one chef describes the meat as "... a savory dark meat, flavorful, sweet and very tender when the animals are young."
The movement from a designation of 'weird' to mainstream for squirrel meat and other non-traditional meats is thanks to offerings made by restaurants.
Thornton said squirrel would become as mainstream as rabbit in the near future, pointing out to the AFP that it takes 15 tons of grain to produce one ton of beef.
Grey Squirrel meat is high in protein and low in fat.
More about Squirrel meat, Budgens supermarkets, Animal rights, Sustainable meat
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