King of Beasts, Not Burgers:
Lion Meat Trade in the United States
by Born Free USA, captive lions
await their fate.
Images from the previous investigation
An appalling proliferation of ads for lion burgers at restaurants across the country led Born Free USA to undertake a year-long investigation into the sale of lion meat for human consumption.
(Read about our efforts to have the African lion be formally listed as an endangered species.)
We uncovered shocking information about this shady business — a cycle that involves lion cubs bred for the captive display industry, caged lions shot at a slaughterhouse, and lion meat sold to unwitting consumers without proper regulatory oversight of animal welfare of human health and safety.
Born Free USA hopes that, as a result of our investigation, state legislatures will consider banning sale of lion meat, the U.S. Congress will consider banning interstate commerce in lion meat, and both the USDA and FDA will ensure that any production and consumption of lion meat is done in full accordance with existing regulations.
Born Free USA uncovered the following:
Lack of Oversight
Despite claims to the contrary, lion meat production and sale largely falls through the regulatory cracks with neither the FDA and nor USDA taking full responsibility for the process from start to finish.
Risks to Human Health
Lion meat sold as a byproduct of the trade in lions raised for public display or "hobby" may not be raised with adequate attention to required antibiotic or other drug withdrawal times. The FDA does not regularly or proactively conduct residue testing in exotic meat. In addition, there are no regulations that prevent feeding lions "specified risk material" (SRM) — brains, eyes, spinal cord and other organs — that are prohibited in feed for other animals raised for human consumption due to the risk of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy caused by "prions" — abnormal proteins that eat holes in the brains of infected humans and animals.
Mislabeling and Misleading
Once animals are skinned and slaughtered it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify the species or origin of the meat. At least one lion meat distributor has had a history of problems, including poor sanitation and selling meat from tigers and labeled as "lion meat."
Lion "Brokers" May Be Breaking the Law
Some lion brokers appear to lack proper USDA licenses, and if live lions are transported across state lines, they may very well violate the federal Captive Wildlife Safety Act.
Lions are not covered under the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. This law requires that animals be rendered unconscious or insensible to pain prior to slaughter. Past investigations by Born Free USA into the private ownership of exotic animals, roadside zoos and traveling shows have revealed appalling conditions under which captive exotic animals, including lions, are commonly kept. Many states have no laws governing the care and treatment of captive exotic animals.
The African lion is not listed on the U.S. Endangered Species list, although Born Free USA along with other conservation organizations have petitioned for its listing. The lion population in Africa has been reduced by half since 1980. Born Free USA is concerned that increased popularity of lion meat in the United States could influence global trends and result in increased threats to the survival of the species in the wild.
Born Free USA's investigation shines a bright light on this shady, under-regulated business that places both people and animals at risk. Consumers, restaurant owners and policy-makers are all equally responsible for putting a stop to this risky business by refusing to buy or sell lion meat and by pushing for and passing stronger regulations and prohibitions on the possession, slaughter and sale of lions in the United States.
For more on the lion meat investigation, read Senior Program Associate Monica Engebretson's story in the fall/winter 2011 issue of our Animal Issues Digest, "Lions on the Menu: A Deadly Delicacy."