Christmas is the season for feasting on a haunch of venison, a saddle of hare, wild swan and pheasant. Game is seen as the ultimate ‘free-range’ meat, part of the trend for a healthy, sustainable diet. But most of the so-called ‘game’ in the supermarket is actually rather tame, says Frits Mohren, professor of Forest Ecology and Forest Management.
Wild swan at the Veluwe © Shutterstock
Doesn’t that meat come from the wild?
‘Hunted game is a niche market and usually comes in small batches. For the bigger customers this is not enough, and it’s too expensive. They buy their meat from abroad – venison from New Zealand, for instance. Nothing wrong with that: those animals are out of doors and have better lives than animals in the bio-industry. Anyway, it is compulsory to label meat with its origin so you can always see where it comes from.’
What if you want to eat ‘real’ game?
‘Then you have to go to a game butcher. At De Hoge Veluwe (a national park), they sell packages of game. Then there is also natural meat, which comes from semi-wild cattle and other large ruminants in the nature reserves. That is more expensive and you have to get in quick, but then you can be sure the animal lived in the wild. From the point of view of forest management, we should eat as much game as possible. The forests definitely benefit from that. Game populations are far too high in the Netherlands, and that hampers forest regeneration, especially on the Veluwe.’
Is meat from Dutch nature reserves safe?
‘We shouldn’t romanticize food from nature. Game is not automatically healthy and better. Wild animals don’t get given antibiotics and they can carry diseases. Deer can be infected with Q fever, for example. There are procedures for maintaining food safety. A hunter must check the innards for anything abnormal. In practice this is sometimes only done superficially and the organs are left behind in the field, and then the butcher cannot inspect them. As far as I know, this hasn’t caused any problems so far, but it does carry risks.