The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has established for the first time sanitary standards on processing the meat of wild animals, as the popularity of game cuisine is rising across the nation.
In Europe, such cuisine is enjoyed as a high-grade food in autumn and winter. In Japan, where the meat of wild boars and deer has been growing in popularity, game is known by the French word "gibier," which refers to meat from hunting.
Sanitary controls on meat from wild animals are less strict than those on cattle, pigs and other livestock animals, and thus the risk of food-borne infection is higher.
In Japan, some wild animal and bird populations have been on the rise, turning the creatures into agricultural pests that damage crops. By creating circumstances in which people can eat game with a sense of security, the ministry aims to simultaneously achieve two goals: reducing the crop damage and revitalizing local economies. Slide 1 of 1
Boar meat dishes are a popular part of a restaurant menu at Takeyura no Sato Otaki, a roadside station in the town of Otaki, Chiba Prefecture. They include Inoshishi-don (a bowl of rice topped with boar), Inoshishi Menchi (fried cutlet of minced boar) and Uribo Manju (a steamed bun with young boar meat).
Boar meat is a local specialty served at the roadside station. There are many people who come to buy blocks of boar meat at the station's store.
The meat comes from wild boars hunted in or near the town. A meat processing facility at the roadside station received 47 boars from April to the end of October and shipped out about 600 kilograms of boar meat.
Recent orders have come not only from the roadside station but also from businesses such as Japanese-style inns in the town and French restaurants in Tokyo.
The number of wild boars processed at the facility increased from 15 in fiscal 2010 to 69 in fiscal 2013.
The meat-processing facility has freezing, refrigeration, hot-water supply and vacuum-packaging machines. Boars are transported to the facility within 30 minutes of being killed, and are immediately butchered.
Records of the processing work and samples of the meat are stored for a half year. Before shipment, all products are checked to make sure they are not contaminated with radioactive substances.
"We hope consumers will eat with a sense of security," said Tetsuo Ikeda, 66, who is in charge of the processing.
Local regulation spotty
Sanitary control levels on wild animals and birds differ widely among regions.
Concerning cattle, pigs and other livestock, the Slaughterhouse Law and other regulations oblige checks by veterinarians before and after slaughtering, and sanitary control standards are set. But when hunters shoot or trap wild animals, the carcasses are often processed outdoors, and sanitary controls are left to local governments' guidelines.
In June and July, the ministry conducted a survey on the issue among 141 local governments, including the governments of prefectures and major cities designated by a government ordinance.
The results showed that only 30 of them, such as the Hokkaido and Chiba prefectural governments, have sanitary guidelines for wild animal meat.
According to the survey, there were 451 facilities for processing wild animals and birds. One unconditionally accepted the meat of animals from which the internal organs had been removed outdoors, and another did not store animal bodies in a refrigerated warehouse but only kept them submerged in water even when the processing into cuts of meat would not be done until the following day.
Wild animals and birds can be infected with parasites, hepatitis E or other diseases. There has been at least one recorded case of food poisoning caused by raw deer meat.
When game meats are processed for human consumption, diseased animals should be excluded. The meat also needs to be sufficiently heated before eating.
The ministry presented precautions to be used at all stages, from hunting to processing to sales. The ministry established the standards partly because growing numbers of wild animals and birds have caused increasingly serious damage to agriculture.
The total number of boars and deer taken by hunters rose from 286,000 in fiscal 2000 to 806,000 in fiscal 2011. In May this year, the Wildlife Protection and Proper Hunting Law was revised to relax regulations on hunting, making it easier for more people to hunt wild animals and birds.
Currently, most hunted animals are disposed of. Local governments see this as an untapped resource they intend to promote as foodstuffs for game cuisine.
According to the nonprofit Japan Gibier Promotion Council, game cuisine is increasingly popular, and some local authorities, such as the Nagano and Tottori prefectural governments, have begun assisting the sale of game meats as local specialty goods.
Koji Kotani, chief of the NPO's secretariat, said: "If game dishes become more popular, it can contribute to the revitalization of local communities. We hope that establishing sanitary standards will promote the spread of properly processed meats."