Hunters donate moose meat to N.L. food banks under new pilot program
Provincial government working to update Wild Life Act, which prevented big-game donations for years
Meat is a rare commodity to come by at food banks in Newfoundland and Labrador, but a new project is set to bring moose to the table.
Food activist Debbie Wiseman and hunter Barry Fordham have convinced the provincial government to let them start a program at select food banks where hunters will be able to donate their excess meat to those in need.
For years, hunters have been lobbying the province to update the Wild Life Act to allow hunters to distribute meat to food banks. Under the current rules, a licence holder can donate to a friend or family member, but not an organization.
"That was what we were hoping to have changed. It hasn't actually been changed, but they are letting us go ahead with our program to see if it is a good idea," Wiseman told As It Happens host Carol Off.
The Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture will support Wiseman and Fordham in their efforts to help hunters donate caribou and moose meat.
Starting in November, select food banks and NGOs in the province will carry out the program while the department will work to change the regulations so that the donations can continue.
Why moose meat?
According to Wiseman, food banks do not get many donations of meat. It is more expensive to purchase than other items like dry and canned goods, which are often found on their shelves.
Newfoundland and Labrador has a dense moose population and big-game hunting culture. With moose, there is an opportunity to provide a massive amount of meat in the food bank stream, she said.
"The hunters, when they go and get their moose … they get about 400 pounds or more. It's more than what one family can eat. Even if they give it away to their neighbours and their friends, they still have a lot left over," Wiseman said.
I hear parents who skip meals because they want to make sure that their kids are fed.- Debbie Wiseman, Social Justice Co-operative
The excess moose meat from hunters is not only free, but also a good source of protein.
Food banks need it so much so that they are ready to make room in their freezers, Wiseman said.
"I've talked to almost all the food banks here within the St. John's area and they said that they have the capacity," Wiseman said. "If they don't have the capacity, they will make the room for it because meat is such a coveted thing."
How the pilot program will work
Hunters will be able to take their game to any government-certified butcher provided on the program's website.
The butcher will process the moose into ground meat and package it into one-pound packages, freeze them, and ship them to food banks.
Wiseman says that the participating food banks are already allowed to start accepting donations, but distributions will begin mid-November.
St. John's is the most food insecure city in Canada, with one out of every six households unsure about where they will get their next meal, according to Proof, a research team that investigates and publishes annual reports on food insecurity using data from Statistics Canada.
On top of that, things have been more difficult this year for people in the province because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of workers lost their jobs early on. In April, 29,000 people lost their jobs across the foresting, fishing, mining and oil and gas industries, among others and left a significant impact on the province's economy, according to Statistics Canada.
The group Food First NL recently did a survey of the food programs in the province and reported a 50 per cent increase of people requesting food during the pandemic.
Wiseman is a member of the Social Justice Co-operative in the city and says she saw people having difficulty accessing food early on during the pandemic.
"I do a lot of work around advocating for people with a lower income. I've been listening to stories all this year about how people are struggling … they only have a can of soup to eat between a man and a woman all day … a man had a can of sausages and he let his wife eat them [while] he didn't eat anything all day," she said.
"I hear parents who skip meals because they want to make sure that their kids are fed…. I've heard people who have to choose between [buying] food or medication, so they choose food and they skip their medications."
Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Debbie Wiseman produced by Jeanne Armstrong.
- This story's headline has been updated to clarify that this is a pilot program and not a legislative change.Nov 02, 2020 10:06 AM ET