It should be reasonable to expect that any wild game meat offered to you for purchase is adequately inspected for wholesomeness and sanitation. Frequently, however, wild game meat available for purchase is not inspected. This article describes how to determine if the meat you buy is fully inspected, by whom, and why you should be concerned if it is not.
Is it legal to sell wild game meat?
There is no law prohibiting the sale of wild game meat (venison, etc.). There are, however, laws prohibiting the sale of uninspected wild game meat. If wild game meat has received a mark of inspection by a state or federal inspection program, or it has been legally imported, then its sale is legal anywhere within the United States.
Game meats that do not have a mark of inspection cannot be sold. This is the case for game meat harvested by a recreational hunter. The inspection and processing requirements will not be met and the meat cannot be sold.
Meat from "game animals" as defined by state wildlife agencies that are harvested within that state cannot be sold. The restrictions and definitions vary from state to state. However, in most states native species (like whitetail deer) are deemed to be "game animals" while non-native species have different classifications, usually deemed "livestock." If it is restricted then it will not be inspected and cannot be sold. However, if it is inspected then that is assurance that it is legal to sell.
Who inspects wild game meat?
Surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not required to inspect wild game meats. The inspection of most traditional meats in the U.S. is regulated by the "Federal Meat Inspection Act" (FMIA) and the "Federal Poultry Inspection Act." The Federal Meat Inspection Act defines “meat” specifically as being from “cattle, sheep, swine, or goats.” (10 CFR 12.601 2011) The USDA is mandated to inspect these meats. All other meats are defined as being non-amenable and the USDA FSIS is not obligated to inspect them. USDA FSIS will perform a voluntary inspection on some of these alternative proteins, including venison, and provide it with a mark of inspection.
Confusion arises from the fact that most wild game meats are not named in the FMIA. These "non amenable" meats are not even considered "meat" by the USDA under their interpretation of the FMIA. This leaves the requirement for inspection of wild game meats in a vague regulatory "never-never land" as far as federal laws are concerned. In theory, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has technical responsibility for the safety of all foods not named in these acts, but they have no meat inspection capability.
Some states, such as Texas, continue to operate their own inspection programs. By law the inspection standards must be "at least equal" to those of the USDA inspection standards. (21 CFR 12.661 2011) It is not legal to sell state inspected amenable meats as defined in FMIA outside of state boundaries. However, since venison is a non-amenable meat and the inspection standards meet those of the USDA state inspected venison can be sold into any other US state.
It's the local municipal health codes that require venison to be inspected. The specific wording of each health code differs but the basic law is that food sold to the public must come from an "approved source" or a source that is deemed at least equal to USDA inspection. The Texas meat inspection program meets this requirement.
Why should you be concerned about inspection?
In today's atmosphere of lawsuits for almost any reason, serving meat that has not been properly inspected is inviting litigation. Your business cannot risk a suit on this basis. In addition, you will almost certainly be in violation of your city or county health codes that state that any meat served to the public must be from an "approved source."
How can you be sure the meat has been properly inspected?
Every inspected meat product is required to be packaged with a label indicating the agency inspecting the meat. The label will have a small logo shaped like a triangle, circle, or even the state of Texas which includes a number identifying the establishment in which it was processed. If the label does not have this mark, the meat is not inspected. If it does have this mark then it is legal to sell.
How is Broken Arrow Ranch game meat inspected?
All of our deer and antelope are harvested in the field under full inspection by the Texas Department of Health Meat Inspection Division. Since wild boar are "pork" and are amenable to inspection under the FMIA, they are slaughtered at a federally inspected processing plant.
Since we harvest truly wild, free-ranging deer and antelope on remote Texas ranches, the inspection must be done in the field as the animals are harvested and processed. We accomplish this with a unique procedure that includes a completely mobile and self-contained slaughterhouse. All animals are humanely harvested in the field to minimize stress. They can only be skinned and eviscerated inside our mobile processing trailer where the inspector examines the organs for any signs of disease (post-mortem examination) and monitors the complete procedure for good sanitation practices. Click here to learn more about our unique field-harvesting methods.