How Wild is Your Game?

Feature Stories Fall 2010 Issue

How Wild is Your Game?

By Dan Johnson | Photo By Bill Lubing 3

As Bonnie Wideman, executive director of Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA), a non-profit organic certifying agency, points out, “White-tailed deer could not be certified as organic in the wild because their diet cannot be monitored.” Ten million Wisconsin acres are cropland, and organic crops make up only half of one percent of that total. This means potentially 28 percent of the state is applied with chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides—and deer and wildlife have access to almost all of it. The real question, then, is whether this in any way threatens the health of deer and those of us who enjoy eating them.

What Does the Science Say?
Back in the mid-1980s, the WDNR monitored contaminants in wild game including white-tailed deer, and released a paper entitled “Environmental Contaminant Monitoring of Wisconsin Wild Game 1985-1986,” by Terry E. Amundson. The results found that “[n]one of the meat samples analyzed in 1984, 85, or 86 from white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbits, pheasants, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, black bear, fox squirrels, or showshoe hares were contaminated with detectable levels of PCBs, organochlorine pesticides (ex. DDT), or trace heavy metal residues.” Sean M. Strom, WDNR wildlife toxicologist, says, “While we have not tested white-tailed deer in many years, we have no reason to believe they are accumulating any type of environmental contaminant. Most herbicides and pesticides used today are not readily accumulated in muscle tissue and other organs like old DDT accumulated in fat tissue.”

Good News for Venison Eaters? 
Perhaps. But it should be noted that this study sampled only eight deer out of an estimated population of 1 million, which by any statistical analysis is pretty insignificant. The monitoring also did not test for other chemicals such as glyphosate (a.k.a. Roundup), the most used herbicide in the United States, or atrazine and alachlor, currently banned by the European Union. Add to that the numerous other questions not addressed—Do older animals have a higher accumulation of contaminants due to increased exposure? Can these contaminants, including “inert ingredients,” combine in the body to create a toxic stew? Can diseases like cancer or reproductive problems be linked to specific toxins?—then the question becomes why even mention this dated study? The simple answer is, according to WDNR staff, this is the only science in Wisconsin addressing this issue.

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