Is Wild Game Meat Good For The Environment?

Many of us are worried about the environmental impacts of livestock, including their greenhouse gas emissions and water use. Wild game meat is often seen as a sustainable alternative, but how much better is it really?

Which wild game meat animals are hunted in Europe?

From reindeer to rabbits, a surprising variety of wild game meat animals are hunted from the wild in Europe. As well as familiar species such as deer and hare, this includes animals that many people have never heard of, such as mouflon (wild sheep) and chamois (a goat-antelope). 

Europe has a long history of hunting, and this practice is still very popular both as a sport and to produce meat that can be eaten or sold as food. Sometimes, animals are also hunted for wildlife management: deer and wild boar can be destructive to crops and habitats, so are hunted as ‘pests’. In recent decades, deer and boar populations have boomed, and so have a number of animals being hunted. Red deer harvest has grown particularly fast in Sweden and Spain,3 for example. 

Environmental advantages of wild meat

As wild meat is hunted for different reasons, it’s hard to make generalisations about its impact. However, it’s clear that wild meat can have environmental advantages over animal livestock. By eating culled animals, we’re not rearing an animal to be consumed as meat, so we don’t have to worry about environmental problems such as the methane that beef cows produce.

Population & wildlife damage control

In some cases, reducing wild animal populations can protect crops and forests. It can also reduce problems for other wildlife, such as the pressure caused by wild boar eating snakes, lizards and other animals.4 Wild game hunting both reduces wildlife damage and provides meat to be consumed. 

Environmental impacts of wild game meat

However, wild meat still has its environmental impacts. Carbon emissions, for example, are often overlooked in the sustainability dialogue of hunting. A recent study about the environmental cost of red deer meat from northern Italy concluded that the main issue is the carbon emissions from hunters travelling to shoot them.5 This could be reduced if the culls were managed to reduce the distance travelled though, so there are ways to increase the sustainability of wild meat. This would require training hunters to increase their efficiency, or using professional hunters who can produce a large harvest in each hunting trip.

Exporting wild meat

Unfortunately, a lot of game meat isn’t consumed locally. For example, Scotland currently produces around 3,600 tonnes of venison, almost all from the wild, and about a third of this is exported to EU countries.6 The food miles associated with transporting meat between countries increases its carbon footprint. 

Problems with hunting for sport

Compared to meat from culls, animals shot for sport or food may have additional impacts. For example, sometimes animal feed is left out to increase the population of wild animals. Growing this food will have environmental impacts from land and water use, so these factors must also be accounted for. 

Animals are sometimes reared and released in order to increase the number of “wild” animals available to shoot (even though it isn’t always legal). Perversely, this can increase the population numbers of animals like boar, leading to more environmental damage. 

How can you make informed choices?

The huge variety of wild meat means that choices can be baffling, but there are a few easy ways to help choose sustainable meat. 

  1. Make sure your wild game meat is wild rather than farmed. Sometimes deer and boar are farmed just like cows and sheep are, and this farmed “wild” meat can have a much higher environmental impact than truly wild meat. A study in Scotland, for example, found that farmed venison had a greater carbon footprint than beef or lamb.7 
  2. Buy local meat. This can dramatically reduce its carbon footprint, and often provides a fairer price for local suppliers. Some countries have certification schemes to help people make informed choices – the Scottish Quality Wild Venison (SQWV)8 label ensures the quality and traceability of meat, for example. 

Dr Rob McMorran, who researches land use policy at SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College, gave his advice: “As well as looking for certification schemes and choosing local produce, people wanting to buy wild meat can talk to their butchers. Many do a good range, and this is largely in response to demand. It will only be stocked if people ask for it.”

Would you eat wild game meat? Let us know in the comments below.

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