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Merits and Demerits of eating game meat (Bush meat)

Olufemi Oboye
Written  by Olufemi Oboye

Game animals can be defined as land mammals and birds, either in the wild or farmed, which are not normally considered to be domestic animals, but are usually hunted for food. Examples of these animals include apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, as well as crocodiles, antelopes and scaly ant eaters. In Nigeria, game animals are commonly referred to as "Bush meat".

Thousands of wild animals get caught in snares across Africa to feed the huge appetite for bush meat.
However, eating bush meat has its merits and demerits with regards to health implications.

The advantage of eating game animals cannot be over-emphasized.
Game meat has less saturated fat, which makes it healthier than other fatty meats. They are also low in calories when compared with beef and pork.
Secondly, wild game meat is high in Eicosapentaenoic acid, an essential omega -3 fatty acid that has several health benefits.
Thirdly, wild game grows in a natural environment. This makes their meat rich in vitamins and minerals, and free from growth hormones which are used in domestic meat and poultry production.
Thus, game meat is a good source of organic meat.
However, despite these benefits, great caution should be taken when eating game meat because of the following reasons.

Lack of proper meat inspection procedures
Consumption of game meat may be particularly dangerous because most of these animals are caught in traps, shot at by hunters, and in some cases, found dead in the bush and sold into the market straight away, without any meat inspection procedures carried out on the carcass by a professional to examine and guarantee that their flesh and organs, are free of disease and any food- borne contaminant or pathogen. In fact, experts say ape meat pose particular risks, with the HIV virus widely believed to have originated from chimpanzees. Apes also host diseases such as ebola, anthrax and yellow fever.

Ingestion of lead bullet fragments
A majority of game animals are usually shot by hunters using bullets made of lead. Fragments of these bullets can be seen when you examine the tissues of these animals. In some cases, while chewing on the meat, you can feel like there is some grit or small stone in it.
The implication of ingesting this lead pellets is that overtime, it will result in unsafe levels of lead in the body and this can interfere with a variety of metabolic activities in our bodies. Lead can also be toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, reproductive and nervous systems.

Smoking process contaminates meat
Most game meat is usually preserved by smoking and evidence suggests that smoked foods may contain carcinogens (a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue). This is because, the smoking process contaminates food with some compounds known as polycystic hydrocarbons and nitrosamines, which are commonly found in smoke. These compounds are known carcinogens. In fact, some scientific studies have found a positive statistical correlation between intestinal tract cancer and frequent intake of smoked food.

As much as game meat is an irresistible delicacy in many cultures all over Nigeria and the world at large, great caution should be taken when handling or before the consumption of these animals. Here are a few steps that should be put into consideration to reduce the chances of contact with pathogens that may be present on and in the game animals.
First, wash your hands thoroughly with antiseptic soap or solution after handling the carcass of any game meat.

Second, do not cut the meat into large chunks. It is better to cut into small chunks so that the heat from boiling can easily penetrate the meat. If the chunks are too large, the centre may not be properly cooked because the heat may not be able to penetrate.
Also, after cutting, rinse properly until all traces of blood is removed.
Finally, you must ensure that you cook game meat properly. Never eat it raw. This is because they may contain a alot of micro organisms and parasites that can severely harm you.

An example is a case study of a 13 year old boy named Weijie from the Zhejiang province in Shanghai, China. He was diagnosed with Pentastomiasis (a zoonotic parasitic disease caused by blood sucking worms known as pentastomes) after eating the raw gall bladder of a snake. Hundreds of parasites were found in Weijie's lung, liver, intestines and kidneys at the Fudan University's Children Hospital.

The snake's gall bladder was given to him by his parents because they thought it would keep their son healthy and improve his eye sight. Sounds funny though, but this is a Chinese myth.
Meng Silang, vice-secretary general of the Shanghai Traditional Medicine Association, says "Snake gall bladder is good for eyesight and clearing inner heat. The appropriate way is to parch the gall bladder and make it into a powder."

To eat or not to eat assorted meat

We will be looking at offals popularly called 'assorted meat' (entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food). Examples of offals are the brain, heart, kidney, liver, tongue, stomach, intestines, testicules, and so on.

Organ meats are nutritional power houses. In fact, nutritionists confirm that these portions carry wholesome nutrition that is far more superior to the muscular flesh of the same animals. Little wonder why, by instinct, hunters such as lions and jaguars go straight for the internal organs of their captured beast. I guess the reason for this action is because, over time, these predators instinctively know where the bulk of the nutrition lies.
Organ meat carries the richest sources of B vitamins and vitamins such as A, D, E and K. Additionally, minerals like phosphorus, iron, copper and magnesium are also present in abundance. Let us take the cow's organs as an example to observe all the nutrients that are present.

A cow's liver is known to be one of the most concentrated sources of natural vitamin A, compared to any other natural foods. The liver is also a good source of vitamin B12, arachidonic acid, folic acid, zinc and iron. These vitamins play several roles in the formation of haemoglobin and proper brain development.

The heart of a cow has high quality protein, less fat and cholesterol content than other organ meat. It is also said to contain twice as much collagen and elastin as regular meat. This makes it specifically good for maintaining a good skin because it helps prevent wrinkling and ageing. The heart also contains Vitamin B12, iron, potassium, selenium, phosphorus, zinc and other essential amino acids.

The kidneys are low in fat and high in protein. They provide large amounts of vitamin B12, B6, riboflavin, iron, folic acid and niacin.
The tongue also contains useful amounts of B vitamins, especially vitamin B12.

Despite the enormous benefits of consuming organ meat, we also need to know that there are always two sides to a coin. A few implications of consuming the liver are that, firstly, it has a high level of cholesterol.

This implies that caution should be taken by persons who already have high blood cholesterol levels and are at a high risk for coronary heart disease. Secondly, the liver contains high levels of iron and overconsumption can lead to excess levels of iron in the blood.
A mere intake of over 200 mg of iron per day can result in iron poisoning. High levels of iron in the body can also lead to liver damage. (This is because when the iron carrying capacity of the serum has been exceeded, free iron is deposited in the liver where it damages mitochondria, leading to the necrosis of the periportal hepatocytes).

Another major reason to be cautious when consuming the liver is because a major role the liver plays is in the body is detoxification (The removal of toxic substances from a living organism).
The liver carries out this process by converting any ingested toxic substance to non-toxic forms that the body can easily eliminate. For example, when humans consume alcohol, the liver using some enzymes produced by its cells will convert alcohol first into acetaldehyde, then into acetate, and finally into carbondioxide and water.

If an animal ingests toxic substances, especially heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, etc., and it is slaughtered before the process of detoxification is complete, residues of the toxic substance may be present in the liver and may result in serious health implications if the liver of such an animal is ingested.

Great caution should also be taken when consuming any offal that is part of the central nervous system (like the brain). You need to be aware of diseases such as Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), also known as prion diseases. These diseases are a group of progressive conditions that affects the brain and nervous system of many animals, including humans. Transmission of these disease can be through air or contact with infected body tissue or fluids. Normal sterilisation procedures such as boiling or irradiationon fail to render prions non-infective.

Finally, offals such as the stomach and intestines may contain a high load of micro organisms and dirt. They should thus be carefully and properly rinsed to ensure that all the dirt is removed. They should also be properly boiled or subjected through other forms of heat so as to ensure that the micro organisms are destroyed.
In conclusion, this article is not meant to scare you from eating offals such as shaki, edo, tinu eran and so on. Rather, it is meant to encourage you to ensure that it is properly rinsed and subjected to a good measure of heat that will kill the micro organisms present.

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