A Newfoundland & Labrador tradition could very well be the missing link for a modern, more sustainable food bank.

According to Statistics Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador is among leaders in per capita charitable donations, year in year out. Despite this generosity, however, our food bank shelves go bare far too often. Strained human resources and donor fatigue are a constant battle for any charitable organization.

That’s where the concept of “Hunters Feeding the Hungry” would really shine. Barry Fordham, head of the Newfoundland Association of Hunters and Anglers (NAHA), has been a real champion of enacting the program here.

“I support this program because there are people in Newfoundland and Labrador who have to access food banks for food. Game meat is natural organic food. People may not have the means to secure this kind of food, and while food banks may have canned food, they lack protein-rich and nutritious products.”

Currently, due to wild game regulations, raw wild meat cannot go through an intermediary on its way to the end consumer. For instance, a hunter may give directly to a food bank, but the food bank cannot then pass it on to a third party.

Wild game regulations came into being to protect animal species whose populations were under threat, and the third party rule came about to remove incentives for poaching. A brief overview of these regulations may clarify how we arrived at this juncture:

Legislation Meant to Protect Wildlife from Poachers,
Also Prevents Food Banks & Grocers from Distributing Wild Game

The wildlife act of 1952 greatly expanded the scope and powers of earlier wildlife legislation. Under the act, wildlife is deemed to be “any wild animal or bird to which the provisions of the Act or the regulations apply.” This is why we can donate beef, pork, or chicken products to the food bank but not moose, hare, or salmon. The act applies to some animals, but not to others.

Among the new powers of the wildlife act of 1952 were the ability to set hunting seasons, bag limits, hunting areas, the instituting of licenses, and most importantly, to regulate possession, sale, and purchase of wildlife.

Previous to 1952, the sale and purchase of game meats was commonplace so much so that grocers, like Whiteways in St. John’s, are photographed with wild game hanging in their entryways.

Previous to 1952, the sale and purchase of game meats was commonplace so much so that grocers, like Whiteways in St. John’s, are photographed with wild game hanging in their entryways.

Later acts of 1970 and 1990 served to expand upon the framework of the original 1952 wildlife act, increasing restrictions. These regulations never had food banks in mind, and no exceptions for charities were included.

The Provincial Department of Wildlife
Is Aware of the Hunters Feeding the Hungry Concept

For the purposes of this article, Chris Baldwin, Manager of Conservation Services, Department of Wildlife, was asked whether Government would consider making amendments to wild game regulations so that hunters and fishers could donate wild food to food banks. He said it’s been discussed.

“The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources is aware of the interest in this concept, and has had discussions with various non-governmental organizations in the past. However, there are legislative barriers that prohibit food banks from acting as an intermediary in the receiving and distribution of donations of wild game.”

We are a province that imports the vast majority of the food we eat, and instances where controlled exceptions could make a difference to public access to wild food are readily available. For example, in 2007, Bidgood’s supermarket was charged with unlawfully possessing big game, and three additional charges of trafficking big game. The Bidgood’s license to purchase and sell cooked game meat had expired, and raw meat had been sold.

2008 saw the owner of Kavanagh’s meats in Ferryland purchase moose meat from licensed hunters under his license to sell game meat. However, his license only allowed him to sell cooked game meat. Kavanagh sold it raw, and was sentenced to three months in jail and made to pay a $10,000 fine. Mr. Kavanagh was not charged as a poacher, this is the important point, he simply sold the meat raw instead of cooked.

Restaurants Like Raymonds Can Bypass the Restriction By Cooking the Meat

Restaurants like Raymonds under the same special license may buy directly from licensed hunters, and then sell to customers, but the meat must be cooked and served on site. This is the primary obstacle for food banks: they do not have the staff or the resources to cook the meats on site, and with the regulations as they currently are, food banks are not allowed to accept donations from licensed hunters, and then give that raw meat away to those in need.

Food banks are not soup kitchens, and serve an entirely different segment of the population, from university students to seniors on a fixed income. Cooking a meal at home with your family is unquestionably important for the healthy development and emotional well being of families. Turning food banks into soup kitchens is not a viable alternative

Legality & Liability

According to Mr. Fordham, “There are two major factors preventing this [Hunters Feeding the Hungry] program in Newfoundland and Labrador … legality and liability.”

Mr. Baldwin, Manager of Conservation Services, sees liability and public safety as the major stumbling block. “Issues to consider include public health and safety, as well as licensing and permitting concerns.”

In terms of civil liability though, in every province, the law provides protections for companies and individuals who donate food, as opposed to selling it. The laws are worded in various ways, but they all provide food donors with a strong defence if a consumer sues because of illness caused by the donated food. In NL, we have the Donation of Food Act, SNL 1997.

“Good Samaritan” protection in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Alberta, and Ontario share a similar statute. Any company or person who acts in good faith when donating food is given a very high degree of protection against liability. They have a degree of protection much higher than those who sell food, should someone became ill as a result of consuming food. This is probably why there is no reported case in Canada of anyone being sued as result of illness or damage caused by consumption of donated food

Regulations Effectively State the Public
Can’t Judge if Meat is Fit for Consumption

The current laws effectively say that Raymonds can judge whether raw meat is fit to be cooked for human consumption, but that the public is not permitted to rely on that judgement if they would like to do the cooking at home.

Interestingly, according to Mr. Fordham, non-resident hunters have been donating meat to charity for some time now. “I used to be a commercial hunting guide, and back then, excess meat was donated to charities like seniors homes.”

The Senior Homes had to cook the meat, but the abundance of raw meat which could be donated is clearly illustrated. Mr. Fordham continues, “There are two types of non-resident hunter, sport and meat. The meat hunters want it all. The sport hunters are more concerned with antlers. The meat is usually given to the guide or lodge.”

Were there a Hunters Feeding the Hungry program established here, the meat could be donated directly to food banks, providing the food bank had proper storage and handling capacity for meat.

Anything which aims to be sustainable must address to the question of money. Under the Hunters Feeding the Hungry program, individual hunters who have paid for the butchering and processing of their animals could donate any portion of their hunt at no further cost to anyone. But how would a larger Hunters Feeding the Hungry program, open to non-resident hunters, operate financially?

Mr. Fordham suggests corporate sponsors, as seen in other jurisdictions. “They would provide a fund which would include the payment for the butchering, packaging, and transportation.”

Fordham Has Spent Years Lobbying for the Hunters Feeding the Hungry Program

Fordham says he’s spent six years of his life lobbying for change.

“I first read about Hunters Feeding the Hungry in an Outdoor Life magazine, which is an American publication. Then in 2010 or so, I read that a father and daughter started a chapter in Nova Scotia. I thought, why don’t my daughter and I attempt the same thing.”

According to Stats Canada, more than 26,000 Newfoundlanders and Labrodorians rely on food banks. That is 5% of our population, or 5 in every 100 people you know.