Barbara Baird is a freelance writer in outdoor and travel markets. A former small-town newspaper editor and reporter, she constantly hunts for news headlines you need to read. Barbara also publishes Women’s Outdoor News online and pens columns for the National Wild Turkey Federation and Shooting Sports USA. Hailing from the Ozarks of Missouri, this avid hunter is now mentoring the second generation of hunters - her own little bevy of Realtree-wearing grandchildren.
Outrage Over Discarded Venison at Louisiana Homeless Shelter Prompts Legislative Action
Venison may be royal fare in Europe, but in the United States, it’s not good enough for the indigent in Louisiana.
Did you hear or read about what the Department of Health in Shreveport, La., decided recently? It ordered the staff at the Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission to discard 1,600 pounds of venison in the dumpster out back. This venison, donated by hunters from the organization Hunters 4 the Hungry, would have fed approximately 3,200 people.
And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, a representative from the department “denatured” the meat in the dumpster, and poured bleach on it. That way, animals would not be able to scavenge from the dumpster.
In a report on Fox News radio, Todd Starnes wrote that according to the Shreveport Health Department, “Deer meat is not permitted to be served in a shelter, restaurant or any other public eating establishment in Louisiana.”
In response, the health department posted this message at its Facebook wall: “While we applaud the good intentions of the hunters who donated this meat, we must protect the people who eat at Rescue Mission, and we cannot allow a potentially serious health threat to endanger the public. The State Sanitary Code laws exist to protect all residents of our state, and while sometimes these laws may not be popular, they allow us to ensure the public’s health and safety, and must be followed.” It later had to take down its Facebook page because of comments and threats.
For the record, people at the mission had been enjoying a “potentially serious health threat,” aka deer meat, in chili and spaghetti for several years, until someone complained about it. The chef at the mission asked if they could return the meat to the food bank. The health department refused that request.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The mission serves about 200,000 meals a year – and takes no government aid. Of course, the mission is under the purview of the health department. Even though the department may have been following their regulations, these actions seem extreme.
One of the founders of Hunters 4 the Hungry, Richard Campbell, told Realtree that since this happened last month, there has been real concern for the game donation program. However, according to Campbell, on Monday, Feb. 25, three Louisiana government agencies – Department of Health & Hospitals, Department of Agriculture and Department of Wildlife and Fisheries – met for a press conference at the shelter and agreed to work together to sort out the problem. Campbell said that this is encouraging news.
In the meantime, State Rep. Jeff Thompson is drafting a bill that regulates how venison is prepared for donations to shelters. Campbell said that Thompson, a deer hunter, donated one of the deer that went to that mission. In a WAFB report, Thompson stated, “"When you're serving people that are truly in need, you have all the health issues. Sometimes their immune systems are not as robust as some of us that are getting proper health care, so it's all critical to providing a good, safe meal."
His bill would mandate that all venison would have to be processed properly at a sanctioned meat processing business before being donated to a shelter.
Campbell said Hunters 4 the Hungry wants to know exactly what it did that violated the health department policy, to make it doesn’t happen again. The organization is willing to work with legislators to move forward to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, or become endemic. Campbell indicated that a new bill should be ready to move through the legislature in early April.
Background: Hunters 4 the Hungry
In 1994, several hunters created Hunters 4 the Hungry, a non-profit organization in the Baton Rouge area that provides wild game and fish to service missions. It is part of the Food Bank’s Lagniappe du Coeur (Extra From the Heart) program, which is Louisiana’s first prepared and perishable food rescue program. Available to 11 parishes in Louisiana, the Food Bank is a storage place for game and fish. It is sanctioned and promoted by the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries.
The organization donates game in two programs: “Clean Out Your Freezer Day” and “Freshly-Harvested Game Program.”
The first program, “Clean Out Your Freezer Day,” is held every September in the Baton Rouge area with several pick-up points. Hunters and sportsmen are asked to check their freezers for surplus game and fish and donate it.
The “Freshly-Harvested Game Program” involves meat processors who agree to accept game from hunters and prepare it for storage in the Food Bank, or other similar agencies, for later distribution.
You may follow and learn more about Hunters 4 the Hungry at its Facebook page.
It’ll be interesting to see what plays out, and I’m hoping that the legislature looks hard at this topic. After all, if venison – deemed the healthiest red meat out there – isn’t fit for people to eat, then what is?
Or, as Campbell told us, “Now, the proof is in the pudding. We are a little nervous, but trust that the legislature will do the right thing and close the gap in the policy.”
Again, this is an area where hunters should double check with their state representatives, to make sure there are no gaps in the system, such as in Louisiana.