Venison & Nutrition

(This section is reprinted from the paper given by Dr T.John Fletcher to the 2nd World Deer Farming Congress, Limerick, Ireland in June 1998) Archaeological research shows that humans were eating deer meat at least 50,000 years ago.

In a survey of 165 Mesolithic and Palaeolithic sites within Europe red deer remains were present in 95% (Jarman 1972). Long and widespread was the period during which red deer meat can be said to have been overwhelmingly the meat of Europeans, and during which elsewhere in the world other game animals contributed the staple meat ration to other peoples.

Professor Michael Crawford of Cambridge England promotes the view that man has still not evolved a physiology to cope with the fattier meats of domesticated livestock, but instead best adapted to eating the meat of game: as he states ’99.8% of man’s life has been spent eating wild food’ and ‘man is still a wild animal not yet adapted to eating other than wild foods’ (Crawford and Marsh, 1989)

He points out that in game meat the fat is predominantly structural and intracellular, high in polyunsaturates and made up for the most part of essential fatty acids, vital, as the name suggests, to the proper functioning of the body. Among these are the larger molecule EFA’s the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids necessary for the development of neural tissue. Venison is particularly rich inomega-3 fatty acids. Prof. Crawford points out that cow’s milk contains more protein that human mild but much less EFA’s and consequently it is better suited to sustaining body development whilst human milk is adapted to sustaining the growth of nervous tissue and the brain.

The amount of animal fat in the British diet is now sufficient to power all its light bulbs! And Prof. Crawford emphasises that the meat from farm animals is becoming increasingly fat as they have been selected to grow faster and have become more and more dependent on a cereal diet. Thus Chicken in 1900 had a typical analysis of 2.4% fat but by 1970 this had become 8% and by 1980 22%. A wild pig has an analysis of polyunsaturated to saturated fats of 2:1 but the farmed pig has only 0.2:1.

The results of eating a modern diet so high in saturated fats are to be seen in the very high level of heart disease in societies eating a western diet. In Japan however, where, traditionally, fish that are very high in omega-3 fatty acids, were the staple source of protein, heart disease was a rarity but with the increase in consumption of farmed meats, heart disease is rising fast. At is worst some western societies have reached levels under which 25% of men suffer a heart attack or stroke before they reach retirement age.

Other diseases that have been linked with a high dietary intake of farmed animal fats are multiple sclerosis, arthritis, diabetes and several forms of cancer including colo-rectal which is becoming the most life threatening of all cancers in parts of Europe and the USA (Anon, 1997).

In their 1997 study: ‘Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer – a global perspective’ the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research make a very clear distinction between ‘re meat’ i.e. the meat of domesticated animals, and the meat of non-domesticated animals. They recommend’ if eaten at all, red meat to provide less than 10% of total energy…..but consumption of meat from non-domesticated animals is preferable’. The same study points out that ‘for many years subsidies have been given….to the most fatty foods of animal origin.’ And this is despite the fact that: ‘increasing consumption of meat and fatty foods will lead to a massive increase in incidence of a large number of diseases that are expensive to treat.’ And again, ‘obesity is an increasing major public health problem not only in developed countries but also now in urban areas of developing countries. As well as increasing the risk of a number of cancers, obesity increases the risk of cardio-vascular disease, adult onset diabetes and other major chronic diseases, and reduces life expectancy.’