Most people enjoy the sight of reindeers at Christmas. But a dramatic increase in the number of people who enjoy the taste of Dasher, Dancer and Rudolph is putting pressure on reindeer stocks in Finland, where suppliers are turning down requests for the exotic meat for fear of depleting the forests.
Worried that they barely had enough animals to meet domestic demand, reindeer producers there have refused a request from a German company for 100,000 beasts destined for the dinner table, saying there were not enough reindeer in Finland, the national broadcaster YLE reported on Sunday.
It is not just Germany left looking elsewhere for reindeer meat: companies from France and Spain had also tried to source the succulent game from the snowy northern European nation. Finland is even struggling to meet its own reindeer needs and has had to import at least 10,000 carcasses from neighbouring Russia, where a million reindeer roam the boreal forests of Siberia.
While reindeer is common on menus across Scandinavia, Britain has taken a little longer to get used to the idea of consuming a staple of the Christmas season with a nice cranberry sauce and dumplings. Five years ago there was an outcry when it emerged that the Swedish furniture giant IKEA was selling salami containing reindeer.
But with the foodie revolution putting game firmly back on the menu at home and in restaurants, the squeamishness appears to have faded. The German-owned supermarket chain Lidl is stocking its shelves with £7.99 reindeer steaks this year after a successful trial run in 2010.
“The demand from our customers has been huge,” Lidl’s PR manager, Clare Norman, told ABC News last month. The chain’s diced Siberian reindeer sold out within a week in 2010 and other suppliers in Britain have also seen demand soar.
The exotic meat supplier Kezie reports on its website that demand for the “tender and succulent” meat is so high that it now offers it all year round, selling everything from reindeer sausages and steaks to meatballs and mince.
Animal rights groups, however, are quick to play up the Christmas link. A spokesperson from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) told ABC that “no one likes the idea of eating Rudolph at Christmas”. Groups like Peta and the vegetarian activist group Viva! also allege that the reindeer are distressed during the hunting process and claim that other wildlife such as wolves and bears are killed to protect commercial reindeer herds. Lidl says all their reindeer products meet EU guidelines for the welfare and slaughter.
Reindeer are found across Canada, Alaska, Greenland, northern Asia and northern Europe. In Scandinavia, they are traditionally herded by the Sami indigenous group, who used to round up thousands of the beasts every year for a migration hundreds of miles north to the summer pastures. The reindeer herds in Finland are now managed by the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry, with the beasts roaming 44,000sq miles – about a third of the country.