Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eating our Biodiversity into Oblivion

I would like to say that I have made an important discovery over the past few weeks but that would be a blatant lie, in reality this information has been in plain sight for all to see for many a year. Perhaps it doesn’t occur to most animal lovers to look for it or perhaps it is conveniently ignored because the implications are simply too disturbing to deal with. Or it could be that a debate on this subject would threaten to focus the uncomfortable issue of our eating habits. The truth is that the exotic meat market is alive and well in the United States, Canada and many other Western countries and it is perfectly legal.

One of my friends has brought to my attention the existence of a website that specializes in the sale of exotic meat:

Upon further investigation I have discovered a number of such websites that specialize in the sale of exotic animal flesh for the purpose of human consumption. The website in question that this post will be focusing on, Exotic Meat Market, sells the meat of several exotic mammals including that of lion and kangaroo. It is, of course, not restricted to unusual mammals and sells crocodilian and iguana meat as well. The sale of lion, kangaroo, and crocodilian flesh is supposedly a sustainable practice as various companies have made their business in trading a hypothetically renewable resource that is overseen by local wildlife management. Of course, if one were to dig a little deeper one will find some questionable practices that go blatantly unchecked.

Among the meat that is for sale is that of rattlesnakes. There are over 32 species of rattlesnake, some of which are protected and some of which are in the midst of state or federal protection. The website does not specify which species of rattlesnake they are selling nor are they explaining where they get their snake meat from. I have been asked: do they get this from rattlesnake roundups? I honestly do not know but it would not surprise me as rattlesnake roundups usually end up with hundreds of pounds of meat that they must either sell or let go to waste. Another item that is for sale is frog legs, a trade that has been condemned by conservation groups worldwide and has been implicated in the spread of the deadly Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (aka the chyrtid fungus) in amphibians.

Exotic Meats Market also sell the meat of turtles. According to the IUCN over 40 species of turtle face the threat of extinction (IUCN). This website is not specific about what species of turtle it is selling for consumption so it may or may not be peddling the flesh of endangered species. Granted, it is most likely selling snapping turtle or alligator snapping turtle meat. The former is currently listed as “least concern” while the latter is listed as vulnerable. Unfortunately, all turtle species are extremely slow to reproduce, often reaching maturity at an older age, laying many eggs (sometimes hundreds or thousands) with very few offspring surviving to reach adulthood. Seemingly stable populations of chelonians might not be able to support a growing or even a steady number of consumers for very long.

On the home page says that all meats being sold on Exotic Meat Market are USDA or state inspected and any agencies are welcome for inspection. The webpage adds that any inquiring press will be provided all information related to the meats being sold upon request. Directly below this statement is a quote from the owner of the company, Anshu Pathak. I am certainly not questioning the legality of the meat in question but this does not mean that I approve of the ethics being practiced by this company. A little over a year ago Mr. Pathak’s company made headlines in Arizona and Los Angeles over the sale of lion meat, which can be seen here:Lion steak sales soar according to one LA Merchant

The lions in question, according to Pathak, are actually raised on farms in the Midwest and slaughtered for their meat and fur. All of this is going on while the status of wild lions in Africa remains questionable. Interestingly enough they also sell the meat of the Burmese python which they say they import from Vietnam, even though there are plenty of pythons in the everglades. While the debate rages over whether or not people should be allowed to keep exotic pets very few seem to be discussing the issue of whether or not the exotic meat industry that appears to be legally thriving in the West should be checked in some way.

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