By Carl Eve
Venison infected with bovine TB may have been sold into the food chain by irresponsible poachers, a deer manager has warned.
Brian Lemin, who manages a large number of wild deer in the area in and around Plymouth, recently alerted police to a rise in attacks by poachers who have left partially hacked carcasses on land, or have dragged off entire deer having slaughtered them.
At the time he said his greatest fear was that the meat was being sold to local restaurants, hotels and butchers on a “no questions asked” basis.
That fear has become all the more real after DEFRA inspectors have confirmed one of the deer in a herd he manages was suffering the lethal virus.
Brian said he was checking on four mature does which he said should have had fawns with them.
However, he soon realised that there were no fawns and, in addition to other concerns, he made the decision to shoot the eldest doe.
He quickly noticed it had no milk in its udders and he noted a swelling in its lower jaw.
Brian said: “It raised my suspicions.”
Dissecting the doe, he spotted the tell-tale signs of TB in the lymph nodes and alerted Defra inspectors. They took the carcass away and carried out examinations which included growing the suspected virus in a culture dish to determine what strain it was.
Brian said: “The doe was riddle with it, yet she had perfect weight and coat. She should have had fawns, but I know the dog boys and poachers we’ve had around here recently often target the fawns.
“TB can be passed on in the milk. The question is, did the fawns die of TB as well? Has the deer that have already been poached have TB?
“This is why you have to have a deer management qualification.
“You have to understand meat hygiene, you need to know it’s healthy before it died.
“You have absolutely no idea the state of the animal if you pick it up as road-kill.
“I very much doubt the poachers who may be selling this at restaurant back doors or to their mates have any idea how to check lymph nodes for bovine TB.
“If you’re buying poached deer, you should be asking yourself if you’re getting TB for Christmas.”
A spokesman for the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), a branch of Defra, said: “Bovine TB is a chronic, mainly respiratory infectious disease of cattle, which occurs sporadically in deer and the Tuberculosis (Deer and Camelid) (England) Order 2014 makes it a legal requirement to notify the APHA of any suspicion of TB in a deer carcass.
“This is part of APHA’s routine animal health surveillance for TB in non-bovine animals.
“TB in deer is often characterised by the formation of abscess-type lesions, which cannot be easily distinguished from other, non-tuberculosis, abscesses.
“Therefore, all abscesses should be considered as potential TB lesions until proven otherwise.
“Initially, suspect carcasses should be isolated from others to prevent contact.
“However, provided it is otherwise healthy and in good condition and there is no other reason to retain it, a carcass from which samples have been removed can then go into the food chain as normal.
“There have been no recorded human cases of bovine TB in the UK that have been due to consumption of meat from infected animals although in theory, the consumption of undercooked or raw meat from tuberculous animals could present a risk of transmission of infection to humans.
“However, meat from legitimate suppliers is very unlikely to be a vehicle of infection in the UK as animals with evidence of disseminated disease, and any part of a carcass with visible lesions, are removed from the food chain during post-mortem meat inspection.
“EU Food Hygiene Regulations assure the safety of wild game supplied for human consumption in the UK and EU. There are exemptions for those shooting wild game only for their own private consumption or to give away to family and friends for private consumption on an occasional basis.
“Clearly, poachers take no notice of these regulations so there are clearly risks related to purchasing illegal venison.”