Concerns over food safety delay venison donation to New Brunswick food bank

Global News / File

A pilot project that would have seen venison from a hunt of so-called nuisance deer go to low-income families in southwestern New Brunswick is on hold while health officials ensure the meat is safe to consume.

The town of Saint Andrews, N.B., is overrun by deer, and donating meat from a hunt was seen as a way of addressing the problem while helping the hungry.

But provincial health authorities say they need more time to assess whether “health and safety risks” have been sufficiently addressed.

“An important component to food security is food safety,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said in an email.

READ MORE: New Brunswick turns to bow hunt to control deer in populated areas

She said authorities will examine practices in other provinces to determine “if there are ways to implement control measures to help reduce risks and allow this kind of donation.”

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Donna Linton, co-ordinator of the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County Inc., says the meat would have been a great help this winter, but she is hoping provincial officials can sort out the issues in time for next year.

“It would help tremendously,” Linton said. Her group provides food to about 400 people each month, but the meat content has been restricted to hot dogs and frozen hamburger. She said she knows of people who survive on broth and dandelion sandwiches before coming to the food bank.

She said a program to serve venison to the needy has been in place in Nova Scotia for some time, and she hopes the province looks to mirror that program.

Brad Henderson, deputy mayor of Saint Andrews, said the community has about 20 deer per square kilometre, and the animals are destroying gardens and becoming a hazard for motorists.

Click to play video: 'Saint John steps up efforts to curb city’s growing deer population'
Saint John steps up efforts to curb city’s growing deer population

He said it was unfortunate the program to donate the meat was put on hold at the last minute.

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“I know a number of hunters did plan to donate their meat to that project, but unfortunately the day that the tags started being handed out we found out that wasn’t going to be an option,” he said. Instead the meat ended up in the hunters’ freezers.

“What a great opportunity to use some of the venison meat to benefit families in need over the winter. Thirty to 40 pounds of meat can be a big difference to a family that is struggling,” Henderson added.

He said 49 deer were killed as part of the annual nuisance-reduction program last fall between Oct. 7 and Nov. 23.

READ MORE: Oh deer! Four-legged animals are causing big problems in Saint Andrews

Henderson said despite the fact that the town is surrounded by forests, the deer prefer to live in the town where there’s a food supply and lack of predators.

He’d like to see more hunters take part in the annual hunt, and believes more will participate if they know they can donate the meat to a good cause.

“I’m very optimistic. It’s one of those situations where one challenge, which is the deer population, could be a solution for another challenge, which is a growing population of people using the food bank,” he said.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2020.

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