April 21, 2005
COMMERICAL SALE OF DEER MEAT
By: Elizabeth Pytka, Legislative Fellow
You asked if the meat from wild deer can be sold commercially in Connecticut.
It is illegal to sell meat from wild deer shot in Connecticut. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) outlawed the commercial sale of deer meat to avoid commercial hunting and depletion of the deer population. Two exceptions to this law include the sale of deer meat imported from a country or state in which it is legal to sell the meat and the donation of deer meat to nonprofit agencies or charities that serve it to the poor or needy people. The Food and Drug Administration has jurisdiction over venison and all other foods not covered by the Federal meat and poultry inspection laws. Meat and poultry exported from another country must meet all safety standards applied to foods produced in the United States, and this must be verified annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
DEER MEAT REGULATIONS
According to the DEP's Wildlife Division, the population of white-tailed deer in Connecticut from 1700 to 1900 was near depletion due to over-harvesting for venison and deerskins, commercial hunting, and a loss of deer habitat caused by extensive clearing of the land for farming. Numerous laws enacted during this period to protect the dwindling deer population contributed to a slow increase in deer numbers. In 1907, legislation passed allowing landowners to shoot deer causing crop damage on their land. Since then, harvest regulations have been gradually liberalized to deal with the growing herd and increasing deer damage problems. In 1974, Connecticut passed the Deer Management Act and, in 1975, held its first deer firearms hunting season.
Although regulations offer guidelines for deer hunting in Connecticut, it is illegal to sell or exchange meat from a deer harvested in the wild in Connecticut. DEP Natural Resources Bureau Chief Ed Parker states this is to prevent commercial hunting and the subsequent depletion of the deer population that is a consequence of such hunting.
The unlawful sale of deer meat became an issue in November, 2003 when the president of the Litchfield Locker Corporation was arrested and charged with five counts of illegal sale of white-tailed deer, conspiracy to sell white-tailed deer and sixth-degree larceny. As part of the investigation, DEP conservation officers posed as customers and purchased venison from the Litchfield Locker on several occasions. With assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensic Laboratory in Oregon, the DEP was able to determine that the venison purchased during the investigation was white-tailed deer.
There are exceptions to the law regulating the illegal sale of deer meat in Connecticut. Any deer meat “legally taken and legally transported into this state from any other state or country which does not prohibit the sale or exportation of such” meat may be bought or sold under DEP regulations made (CGS § 26-78). Hunted game, including deer meat, may also be donated to charitable organizations or nonprofit organizations that serve or distribute food without cost to poor or needy persons. Donated deer meat must “be dressed, packaged, refrigerated, dated and tagged, labeled or marked 'not for sale' ”(CGS § 26-78a).
Venison is under voluntary USDA inspection. The FDA has jurisdiction over imported venison and other wild game.