Venison is so much a member of the red meat group that it is nearly impossible to come upon the deer hunting season without comment; especially about those that have such a passion for the sport.

To take it to the next level of red meat  production seems only natural–as natural as nature’s own unbounded creation of beauty. Is there anything more beautiful than that of deer grazing in lush green fields, protected by the sanctuary of a thickly wooded refuge?

However, we also know that when man intercedes, the intent of creation also becomes tainted. Such is the case when a deer hunter wakes up to a brisk cool morning, with a spring in his step and a loaded muzzle in his hand. It’s the kind of unbridled caution that can turn the best of times and intentions into a disaster for many.

With the deer-hunting season about to open, it seems appropriate to raise the awareness level of the health risks involved in eating uninspected meat, or meat that is processed by a novice. Unfortunately, this describes the processing of most venison–thus the reasons for finding lead in the meat, as well as other adulterations and health issues.

Deer that is properly dressed and processed will be free of all foreign material; utilization of every cut will be maximized and upgraded for value. Scrutiny for health issues, such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWT) and other abnormalities will be observed and dealt with in a responsible manner. Tissues directly associated with CWD, inclusive of brain, spine, and other affected areas of the carcass will be completely destroyed. A trained eye and a preciosity for cleanliness and sanitation should be the norm for all venison processors.

This is simply a statement of caution to make you aware of taking every precaution to keep it clean, keep it dry, keep it cold, and keep it healthy.  To turn a prejudiced eye translates into a huge risk factor when you consider the average novice has no training in the skills of recognizing potential disease carrying characteristics, or proper meat processing procedures.

These are disconcerting issues, for which marry ignore. But Chronic Wasting Disease may be the wake-up-call that will give venison its due-diligence. CWD is a fatal brain disease that is found to be spreading in deer and elk across this entire country. Although experts say there is no scientific evidence the disease can infect humans, the World Health Organization advices people not to eat any part of a deer with evidence of the disease.

In spite of this presumptuous evidence, hunters are demanding to know whether the deer they kill this fall will have the disease. Unfortunately, testing is the only way to find out.  But, be aware that affected animals will appear sickly–thin, weak, emaciated–a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed with a reputable processor.

This information is not intended to raise unfounded fear;  rather, it is to inform you about the health risks of red meat when due-diligence is ignored, and to further embrace and support the Federal Meat Inspection Program. It points out that this program is vital to the welfare of the meat industry, or it would go untamed, suffering the ramifications of venison, which at best is indisputably unsettling.

Not a pretty picture, but it is an issue that I’ve been concerned about for many years.  Back in my college years at North Dakota State University I can remember venison being processed that was genuinely unfit for human consumption.

I worked my way through college working for the Meat and Animal Science Department in various capacities. But, the most pro table venue was that of processing deer. In a good long evening I could process four deer at a rate of $25.00 per head. An income of $100.00 per day was unthinkable back in those days. (I always enjoyed the false sense of being rich for at least a few weeks out of the year.)

After being married for 50 plus years, I now realize that it conjured up other false feelings. Living in a trailer house located on campus, just a few blocks from the meat lab, gave my wife an accessible view to see when the lab lights were turned off. She always mention that this was how she knew when to expect me home. I thought she was just anxious to see me, little did I know it was all about the money.

Making the money was a bonus, but seeing the deteriorated condition of deer carcasses was enough to turn me away from venison for a good long time. Many would be brought in on the hood of a hot car, warm temperatures, and with the appearance of being eviscerated with pinking shears. As apparently audacious as this now seems, I have since come to realize this presented a potentially hazardous health risk.

I hope this has raised your awareness level of properly handling and processing venison. May all of your hunting experiences be approached with a cautious sense of health risk, and a renewed appreciation for those involved in the sport.

related story: The Venison Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree



 Read more insightful stories written by Ken Knight: PONY TALES by PONTY


Ken E. Knight is the author of the “Knightro Report”, a nationally syndicated livestock-marketing column, which is featured in this publication on a regular basis. Mr. Knight is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a major BS Degree in Meat and Animal Science and a minor in Communications. In addition to being a professional auctioneer, public speaker and livestock judge, he brings many years of corporate level meat and livestock market management and expertise to the industry for which he now serves as an independent voice of shared knowledge and experience.


For more in-depth information regarding the topics that have been touched upon in this report, Knightro conducts livestock marketing seminars on a regular basis. To schedule a seminar, auction, judging, or speaking engagement, please contact Ken Knight, Knightro, W11911 County Road FF,  River  Falls,  WI 54022,  phone  toll free 1-877-KNIGTRO, phone 715-262-8480,  fax 715-262-8480, e-mail [email protected]t; or contact the Midwest Farm & Livestock Directory at [email protected].