Are deer still safe to eat

What we eat when we eat deer

It is a relatively quick death for the deer. In the herd, they are driven into a snail-shaped, darkened chamber labyrinth. If they are divided into smaller groups, a fine spray of water trickles onto the deer from overhead lines. It has been found that the animals behave calmly when it rains. The man with the nail gun waits in the last chamber and places it on the forehead of the stag standing in front of him. A short hiss of compressed air, then the animal sinks through a side flap into the slaughter area.

A good 200 animals died that day in the Mountain River slaughterhouse near Rakaia, a small town in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. The factory tour is part of a visit program organized by the New Zealand Deer Farmers Association and the Chamber of Commerce. German journalists have to say goodbye to several romantic ideas that still make a special dish out of every venison goulash. This includes the idea that deer are shot by the hunter. And that game served in German restaurants comes from German forests. With 6,000 tons annually, Germany is the world's largest buyer of New Zealand deer.

It is annual hinds and philistines, i.e. young deer with unbranched antlers, who are killed in the Mountain River slaughterhouse and at some point are neatly packed and end up in a refrigerated counter. When looking at the slaughter, one cannot help but compare the life of these animals, which are kept on New Zealand's 2000 deer farms, with that of our native animals in the wild. Which one had the nicer life? Which one grew up more sustainably? Was it kept more appropriate to the species? Perhaps the local deer, which is brought down by the hunter with a leaf shot while grazing in a forest clearing at dawn?

Probably everyone would like to be able to think of a roaring twelve-pounder while roasting venison, just as you know it from the kitsch paintings above the sofas of the grandparents' generation. The problem with this is that no one wants to find the meat of such a full-grown twelve-year-old animal on his plate today, which runs in front of the hunter and delivers an impressive trophy. It's too old and tough for contemporary tastes - simply too wild. It has not been hung up for as long as it used to be, when it became mellow and the characteristically sweet and strict so-called skin gout was developed. Even hunters themselves today prefer the tender meat of annual hinds and philistines.

Just as the lamb is spurned these days when it tastes too much like sheep, the "game taste" can no longer be conveyed in game either. Whereby the skin gout, which many of the past may still remember as extremely unpleasant, is a collective term that has different causes. It is either the taste that is caused by an increased natural hormone level or the stress hormones from animals that have not been killed properly. In the past, the cooling facilities and hygienic conditions were not up to today's standards, and it simply took too long to get the animal out of the forest. When hanging out, unpleasant-tasting decomposition products were created. The pleasant game taste, on the other hand, as one likes it today, is very fine and not "wild". It arises only through the food of the animals.

This, in turn, seems to be as close to nature as possible, with only slight deviations, even with the New Zealand deer farmers. The farms there are on average 400 hectares in size, the animals are kept in herds in fenced areas, but in the mountainous regions they only eat the herbs and grasses that grow on the ground anyway. Only in the lowlands do the farmers plant beets, clover and alfalfa and drive the herds of deer there. The animals then dig up the fodder beet with their hooves and plow the field, just like a wild boar that falls into a maize field.

Forty years ago, farmers like Charlie Ewing from Cattle Flat Station near Wanaka in New Zealand began using helicopters to capture wild deer with nets and keep them in fenced areas. The Scottish red deer released by the first settlers had become a nuisance like so many non-native species in New Zealand - including rabbits and the Australian fox kusu, also known as possum. In times of falling sheep wool prices, deer hunting developed into an additional source of income and ultimately an industry with exports all over the world.

With four small helicopters, the Ewings are now rounding up the herds of deer in the mountains, leading them from grazed areas to new regions. In the winter months they fly tourists with the helicopters for heli-skiing in the same mountains. Farmers in New Zealand are not subsidized; every agricultural product has to assert itself on the market by virtue of its own accord. Cattle, deer and sheep are herded onto some areas one after the other, each of which ensures optimal use through different grazing. What the selectively grazing deer leave because it is too dry for them, the following sheep mow away.

At the latest, however, when you see deer being herded together by helicopter, the question of sustainability comes to mind. The reality, however, looks a little different from what many die-hard “Locavoren” would like to admit, who preach the purchase of regional products for environmental reasons. “The carbon footprint also depends on how many people have to work with the animals,” explains Farmer Charlie Ewing. He goes on to say that deer require less work than sheep, for example. Accordingly, fewer people drive to work for every kilo of New Zealand deer than, for example, for one kilo of dyke sheep from the North Sea coast.

Shipping in refrigerated containers to distant Europe, for example, during which the meat also reaches the necessary maturity, only makes up three percent of the overall CO2 balance. New Zealand winemakers like to say that a bottle of wine brought to Hamburg by truck from Italy causes more CO2 than one from New Zealand by ship.