Ability to Sell Venison from White-tailed Deer and Mule Deer Stirs Passionate Debate

April 18, 2017 | by National Deer Alliance

In last week’s survey of our membership, we asked a couple of questions related to the commercial harvest and processing of venison from white-tailed deer and mule deer following a recently introduced bill in Texas (HB 3723) that would allow deer breeders to commercially sell venison from their operations. The first question was: Do you believe that states should allow white-tailed deer or mule deer to be raised for commercial harvest and processing of venison to be sold at stores and restaurants? While 55% said no, a surprising 30% said yes, with another 15% saying that they aren’t sure.

The second question was: Have you ever purchased commercially-produced venison at a store or restaurant? We were surprised to learn that 82% of those who responded said that they hadn’t, while just 18% said that they had. We pointed out that most of the venison available for purchase in the United States comes from red deer in New Zealand.

We received a lot of thought-provoking comments from respondents on both sides of the fence on the issue of whether or not venison from white-tailed deer or mule deer should be made available for purchase. One person wrote, “Frankly, I don’t see it any differently than raising beef cattle for commercial use.” Another person wrote, “I’m not sure how this differs from cow, pig, goat, chickens, rabbits, ducks, salmon, etc. For me it could be a positive thing in that people would view deer as a normal source of protein instead of something that only hunters kill and consume.”

Most of those opposed to the idea cited the concern of disease transmittal, particularly chronic wasting disease (CWD), to wild herds. As one respondent put it, “This would only cause more farms to crop up and the CWD issue would really take over. The DNR is already maxed out on patrolling the illegal trade of deer from state to state. Plus, if it was legal to sell meat, everyone would figure out a way to say they are a deer farmer and the number of poached deer would skyrocket.” Another’s opinion was, “Selling venison from deer farms will only give incentive to open new farms or expand currently operating farms. This will directly translate into a significant increase in CWD in the wild as no farm is inescapable. If this happens the U.S. might as well never wasted time and money repopulating deer herds in the last century!”

Some are concerned about the future of deer hunting, and the potential influence of anti-hunters. “I feel that eventually this will be a tool used by anti-hunters to say that raising deer on farms for commercial use will be more humane, especially in the way the animals are killed. They would also say that we no longer need to hunt for venison since we could obtain it commercially. It would open up doors for the government to eventually find its way in to the way animals are processed privately. Some anti-hunters do not seem to have a problem with beef farms when they eat at McDonalds,” wrote one person against the idea. Another wrote that, “Allowing commercial sales on wildlife is what led to the destruction of wildlife. It may not show itself in the form of near extinction of the buffalo, but it may possibly give anti-hunters a foot to stand on to say hunting wild game is not needed for your source of protein.”

The National Deer Alliance joined several other conservation groups led by the Texas Wildlife Association (TWA) by signing a letter of opposition to Texas HB 3723. In addition to what we feel would be a further erosion of our deer hunting heritage, the predictable establishment of factory farms selling wildlife as livestock would exacerbate the problem of moving deer across the landscape, which is a key contributor to the spread of CWD. As TWA indicated in the letter, commercial meat harvest of game species is the very antithesis of wildlife conservation in North America.