Nfld. & Labrador

Talks ramp up on wild game donations to provincial food banks

It's a concept that's long been talked about, but donating moose, and other meat, to food banks could possibly be allowed for next year's hunting season, according to the Community Food Sharing Association.

'I think it would be a win-win situation for everyone,' says Eg Walters

Moose meat quarters hang on hooks inside Hallidays Meat Market coolers in St. John's. There are renewed talks about wild game being donated to food banks across the province. (CBC)

While the idea of donating wild game to food banks in Newfoundland and Labrador has been mulled for years, the concept now appears to be inching toward a plan to make it happen. 

"It fills a void because food banks [don't] usually get a lot of protein items like that donated," said Eg Walters, general manager of the Community Food Sharing Association.

"If we can get together with the government to set up a program that would enable hunters to legally donate moose meat to the local food bank I think it would be a win-win situation for everyone."

Fisheries and Land Resources Minster Gerry Byrne says the provincial government is all for it, noting food banks need more than non-perishable items to provide to people.

The opportunity is there, said Byrne, with more than 20,000 moose licences issued for the current hunting season. 

It's not immediately clear why the issue came back into the spotlight, of sorts, at this time. 

Byrne attributes it to a change of mind by the Community Food Sharing Association. When Eg Walters says the association encourages donations of raw moose meat, "obviously we know something has changed," said Byrne, speculating that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed what people's thinking.

"We did have donations of milk and eggs and chicken to food banks, a surplus from farmers, that was hugely successful," he said.

Not a done deal

There are still details to be worked out, however. 

Walters said he will ask all food banks across the province to see if they are willing, and able, to accept wild game.

If there is interest, Walters said, the association would submit a proposal to the government, which would then have to amend provincial legislation, specifically The Wild Life Act and Regulations.

Eg Walters of the Community Food Sharing Association says he wants to see what food banks across the province think about wild game donations. (Mark Cumby, CBC)

Currently, a licence holder cannot donate game meat to a third person. The person can donate to a friend or family member, but not a food bank or other organization.

Byrne indicated work with the appropriate staff to change the act is in motion so the language will reflect that food banks can accept wild game.

Sharing is caring, and fills a void: hunter

Barry Fordham, an avid hunter who runs the program Hunters Helping the Hungry, says there is huge potential in the proposal, and has been advocating for it for years. 

"With some public education, some public campaigning and getting the word out there, and everything else, I think this will be a great success because we hunters have always wanted to share the harvest with our family and friends and this gives us another avenue to do this as well," said Fordham.

Barry Fordham, an avid hunter, has been advocating for food banks to accept donations of wild game for years. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

He said he's already had discussions with the Newfoundland and Labrador Outfitters Association, and according to Fordham, some members have said there would be an opportunity to donate unwanted meat from American hunters who seek out the province as a hunting destination. 

"I do believe there will be hunters donating. It may be baby steps at the beginning. But it will catch on more and more," he added. 

More than moose?

While donating game meat has yet to be finalized, Byrne is musing about more products finding their way to food bank freezers. 

"Clearly we have an abundance of other products, like cod from the food fishery. We have community gardens where people could donate their own produce. All of which are perishable but can help feed the hungry," he said. 

For now, the focus for the Community Food Sharing Association remains on wild meat. The cost, how to ensure strict food safety standards are followed and what quantities of meat can be accepted are all details to be worked out. 

Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne says the provincial government would amend legislation to allow food banks to accept wild game donations from hunters. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Walters says it could become part of next year's hunting season. 

"There would be a flyer making hunters aware there is this program in existence and gives them the opportunity to help some less fortunate people throughout the island," he said.

For Fordham, that's good news.

"I do believe there will be hunters donating. It may be baby steps at the beginning. But it will catch on more and more," he said. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Colleen Connors