New rules could mean thousands of pounds of moose meat in food bank freezers
Provincial government changed the rules this week
"It's looking good, b'y. It's looking good," said Bill Burton Jr. to his father, as both men gave a final look over a quarter-moose hanging in their shed in St. John's on Wednesday.
Moose hunting is nothing new for the Burtons — they go every year — but what is new this year is they're giving some of the meat to local food banks because a provincial rule change just made that possible.
Looking at the moose quarter on Burton Jr. did the math for what their donation will mean.
"We'll get about 70 one-pound packages out of it. So what better way to be able to, this time of the year, with everything going on, to say, 'Hey, Dad, you know, we actually provided 70 meals this year, 70 good high-protein clean meat to our fellow Newfoundland and Labradorians,'" he told CBC News.
Before this week, food banks were not allowed to accept raw meat from hunters. The change will allow any food bank in a province with some of the highest food insecurity rates in the country to apply for a special permit to accept either moose or caribou meat, according to a press release from the provincial government.
The only other condition is that all donated moose and caribou must be processed at a government-licensed meat processing facility. Home-butchered or processed wild game cannot be donated, says the release.
The meat can be donated by hunters directly or through Sharing the Harvest NL, a group that was created in order to help facilitate donations.
Group director Barry Fordham has spent years advocating for hunters to be able to donate their meat to food banks. Even though the rule change was only made Monday, Fordham said the response has been great.
"I'm overwhelmed by the response," he said during an interview on Wednesday.
As for why the change was made for this hunting season, Fordham said a concerted advocacy push combined with high rates of food insecurity and a pandemic that's meant faster response times from government on these types of issues all played a part.
The first moose meat to be donated came from a moose hunted by Fordham's son. The meat was ground by a butcher and put into bags, then frozen in a donated freezer at the house of Debbie Wiseman of Social Justice Co-operative NL, who joined Fordham's advocacy efforts this past summer.
"I see the potential for thousands of pounds of moose meat to be donated during the hunting season," said Wiseman on last week as boxes of moose meat were being brought into her home in downtown St. John's.
"Right now today we are receiving hundreds of pounds just from one moose. And that's going to go to a couple of different food banks here in St. John's," she said.
Front-line food bank workers say they typically see an uptick in demand each fall as people start to turn on their heat. The choice comes down to paying the electricity bill or doing without food.
Elaine Balsom, executive director of the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland, said people often have to make a choice between buying meat or something cheaper but less nutritious.
"This has a huge impact for us. We're going to be able to give this meat to families, to single-parent families and see families face the biggest food insecurity in our population in the province," she said.
At the Bridges to Hope food bank, manager Jody Williams said he expects the moose meat to help seniors who are on a fixed income.
Having local moose or caribou meat also means less reliance on out-of-province supply chains, noted Williams.
"This brings a little bit more food security because it's coming right from our own province," he said.
Back in the Burtons' shed, father and son are not only newly converted, they're ready to proselytize to other hunters.
"If you can donate some meat, it doesn't have to be a whole quarter. If you can take 10 pounds, 20 pounds and donate that, you know, every bit will make a difference and put a smile on people's faces. It's got a big smile on my face and my dad's face," said Burton Jr.
"Absolutely. Makes us feel good, b'y, giving it. Pay it forward," said Bill Burton Sr.
Fed Up is an ongoing series by CBC NL, in collaboration with Food First NL, exploring the issues of food insecurity and why many people in the province are struggling to access food.
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