DENVER — Some of what Dale Beier grinds into sausage could growl back at an empty stomach, and wildlife lovers say it's enough to make them lose their appetites.
Beier processes the meat of the African lion, black bear, llama, hippopotamus, elk, buffalo, reindeer and other animals native to a wide variety of habitats.
He sells the cuts to hundreds of restaurants that like to be able to offer something exotic, and to individuals who eschew conventional meats for health reasons.
"Many heart patients, some people suffering from allergies and some people on other special diets need game meats," Beier said.
Federal law forbids commercial sales of meat from animals killed in the wild, but, Beier said, his meats all come from farms and ranches. He wouldn't name any of his regular sources, but said he gets beaver from the Bitteroot Valley of Montana, venison from New Zealand, black bear meat from Canada and lion meat from southern Missouri.
Lion is one of the advertised ingredients in a sausage he sells for $3.75 a pound.
Doubts Origin of Lion
Such trade gets the goats of people like Tom Peterson of the Denver Zoological Foundation. He is skeptical about the origins of Beier's products, and his main beef is the lion meat.
"Who raises lions for that purpose?" he asked. "It would be a concern for me if there were that kind of operation."
Peterson said he doubts if there are enough government inspectors to exercise adequate control over the exotic meat business.
"If you run a business like that, you might keep the black market in operation," he said. "Who's to say a fox, for example, killed in the wild, doesn't find its way into a so-called commercial operation?"
The fat hit the fire this summer when Beier's company, Dale's Exotic Game Meat, was excluded from donors of food for a civic fund-raising event.
Beier's outfit was one of 30 Colorado restaurants and caterers scheduled to participate in the Denver Center of the Performing Arts "Summer in the City" festival.
Beier was going to offer Jungle Sausage, a mixture of lion and kangaroo meats that is one of his most popular items, he said.
"Somebody affiliated with the zoo brought it to the attention of the DCPA," Peterson said. "The DCPA conducted its own investigation and decided to pull (Beier) out."
Beier's products have been hailed in restaurant trade publications as a quick fix for failing menus.
"I supply about 700 restaurants in 28 states through major suppliers. We supply mostly west of the Mississippi, a little bit east."
Beier sells about 5,000 pounds of game meat a week through wholesale and mail-order catalogues. He offers packages such as venison medallion steaks at $12.75 a pound, a gift pack of buffalo and venison sausage with cheese and mustard at $19.95.
Beier said the American Heart Assn. has endorsed certain game meats, but Jennifer Anderson of the Colorado Heart Assn., who is a dietitian at Colorado State University, said: "There is no USDA data for meats like that. I don't think he has any basis to his claims, unless he went to a national lab to have those meats analyzed."
Anderson said she knew of no significant claims about cholesterol in game meats. "I do enough work with (heart association) that I would know."
Another dietitian at CSU discounted Beier's claim that exotic meats are more healthful than beef, pork or poultry. Vivian Bradford, president of the Colorado Dietetic Assn., said that three-ounce servings of venison, pork, pheasant or beef each would have 80 milligrams of cholesterol. She said that game animals do have a low fat content, but low fat does not translate into low cholesterol.
Allergy Relief Claim
Beier said that several allergy specialists sent patients to him after they were found to be sensitive to beef, pork and chicken, but Dr. William Silvers, president-elect of the Colorado Allergy Society, said he doubted such a switch would be helpful.
"Someone who suffers from a beef allergy might experience a brief improvement from lion's meat," Silvers said, "but it would be highly unusual if it was anything other than a placebo effect, simply the power of suggestion."
Silvers said that over a period of time, someone with a food allergy would have similar problems with game meats.
Beier also said that his loyal customers lean on him for support while on reducing diets.
"They want to lose weight, but still want to eat meat," Beier said. "Elk meat just doesn't have any fat in it, but it's very high in protein."
CSU dietitian Pat Kendall agreed.
"An animal raised in the wild, versus any kind of animal raised in captivity, will have a lower percentage of fat," Kendall said. "Just like humans, exercising has something to do with fat content."
Beier realizes that his is a controversial business.
"They say we kill Bambi," he said, "but people eat lamb, veal and rabbit. There's nothing cuter than a lamb. About the only animal we process that's a pet is rabbit. We sell 500 rabbits a week."
There are some creatures, however, that he can't process and sell.
"Seal meat is too emotional," he said.