How Wild is Your Game?
By Dan Johnson | Photo By Bill Lubing 1
While the scientific literature is ripe with studies on the influence of nutrition on antler size (albeit, probably a more significant question than contaminants, for some) and millions of dollars are spent on combating chronic wasting disease, the amount of research and money spent on agricultural chemical contamination in wild game meat is little to none. Strom stated that other than the WDNR study, he has not heard of anything. Activist groups such as the California-based Wild Farm Alliance did not immediately know of any specific studies. A thorough search of the scientific literature similarly turned up very little, and what was available was dated from the 1950s and 60s and focused primarily on DDT.
What is of concern is that these chemicals, like in the case of the bald eagle and eggshell thinning, have a way of sneaking up on us and presenting themselves in ways we never expected. For example, while the primary ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, may not pose a risk to wildlife, the inert ingredients like the surfactant polyethoxylated tallowmine, and/or a combination of these may, according to the American Chemical Society (2008). Furthermore, it is often difficult to directly correlate diseases like cancer or reproductive problems in deer or humans to specific toxins without lengthy testing occurring over many years. The science and monitoring of how these chemicals in our environment may or may not be impacting wildlife—even potentially the humans that eat them—remains a mystery.
The good news is that venison still tastes great, and this season over 600,000 of us will take to the woods and farmlands of Wisconsin to participate in our oldest tradition. While the deer herd may be a little smaller than in past years, this is most likely due to herd management and natural fluctuations in wildlife populations. The WDNR stresses that venison is a healthy, chemical-free meat and that neither deer nor the humans who eat them have become sick due to deer being exposed to agricultural chemicals. However, the question of whether deer meat may be contaminated by agricultural chemicals is, as I told the WDNR wildlife toxicologist, a thesis dying for a graduate student.
If you're lucky enough to snag a deer this fall, try some of that hard-won venison in this recipe for Bacon Wrapped Venison Skewers with Pesto, which accompanied this article in the Fall 2010 issue.