Hunters can now donate moose, caribou meat to Newfoundland and Labrador food banks

·3 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Debbie Wiseman is a vegetarian with a freezer full of 200 pounds of moose meat, and she couldn’t be happier.

Wiseman is part of a group called Sharing the Harvest N.L., one of several community groups in Newfoundland and Labrador declaring victory Monday as the government announced hunters could start donating moose and caribou meat to local food banks.

The freezer, donated by a furniture store, belongs to Sharing the Harvest, and all of the neatly packaged meat inside was already earmarked for local organizations in anticipation of Monday's announcement.

"It's the end result of a lot of hard work, and a secret that I've been having to keep for a while," Wiseman said, laughing. "And it's a really positive step toward helping out with food insecurity . . . . It's a really great day."

According to the new rules, food banks can now obtain a special permit from the province’s Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture to accept and distribute moose and caribou donations. The meat must be processed by a government-licensed butcher, and Wiseman said it's easiest for food banks to accept donations of frozen, ground meat in packages of one to two pounds.

"You get to have this meal that not everybody gets to have, right? Moose burgers are expensive! It's a real treat, and it's healthy and it's local," she said. "You're going to have a sense of pride as you prepare this meal."

Moose hunting is a big part of Newfoundland and Labrador life. There is even a clause in the provincial wildlife act providing all former and current premiers a free moose hunting license each year.

Barry Fordham has been hunting moose with his family since he was a child. When he grew up and had kids of his own, he took them hunting with him when they were children, too. In 2008, he and his daughter happened to hear about an initiative in Nova Scotia allowing food banks to take meat from hunters, and he knew there was potential in Newfoundland and Labrador. He's been writing letters and championing the cause ever since.

"Perseverance and persistence certainly paid off," Fordham said in an interview Monday. "Today I feel like I'm over the moon. It's a landmark victory and a historical day here."

Fordham is also with Sharing the Harvest N.L., which was created just a few weeks ago to provide advice and support to hunters looking to connect with food banks. Both Wiseman and Fordham say they hope they'll soon be doing the same for fishers and other harvesters of wild, local food.

Eg Walters, general manager of the Community Food Sharing Association, an umbrella organization representing food banks across the province, says he expects the new rules will bring much-needed high-quality protein into the province's food banks. According to University of Toronto-based food insecurity research group Proof, Newfoundland and Labrador has some of the highest rates of food insecurity among Canadian provinces.

"Any donation is a help," Walters said.

And it will mean a lot for hunters to be able to help, Fordham said. "Hunters always had a long-standing tradition of sharing the harvest with family and friends," he said. "It gives us a good feeling, too, because we know that providing these meals to the food banks, we're actually doing a really good thing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2020.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press