February 21, 2013 -- By passing a bill last week that allows motorists to eat their roadkill, the Montana House of Representatives may be on their way to legalizing the ultimate drive-through experience.
State Rep. Steve Lavin originally introduced the bill into Montana's House to allow "game animals, fur-bearing animals, migratory game birds and upland game birds" who have been killed by a car to be harvested for food.
"This includes deer, elk, moose and antelope, the animals with the most meat," said Lavin.
Lavin said that in his "day job" as a state trooper he sees a ton of animals hit on Montana's roadways that could potentially be repurposed to provide meat for people in need. State troopers already alert food banks to viable bumper banquets. This bill would simply make the practice legal.
If passed, Lavin said the law would explicitly exclude species such as big horn sheep and bear over concerns there would be profiteering from horns, claws and other body parts collectors covet. He added that it certainly wouldn't apply to situations like "finding a dead squirrel in the middle of the road" either.
Collisions between vehicles and animals are a serious problem in rural states like Montana. In 2011, the last year statistics were available, the Montana Department of Transportation reported a little over 1,900 wild animal–vehicle crashes. Considering nearly 7,000 carcasses were collected from the side of road that same year, it seems likely that many such accidents go unreported.
It's worth noting that Montana is not the first state to pass this type of law. Colorado, Illinois and Indiana are among states that currently allow motorists the privilege of salvaging roadkill under certain circumstances.
It's legal in Georgia too, a fact depicted on the reality show, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." In an early episode "Mama June" Shannon explained how police notify her whenever a deer who has met an unfortunate end is found by the side of the road. She then goes on to extol the virtues of dining on deer that die by the wheel – though she has stressed in interviews that the family does not consume possum or raccoon.
"Darleen", as Honey Boo Boo lovingly referred to the family's fender feast, may be delicious – but how safe is it to partake?
"The risk is relative depending on the condition of the animal and how it was killed," said Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist with North Carolina State University. "In roadkill if you happen upon the animal, you don't know its condition, which makes it riskier than eating regulated food or an animal you've hunted."
Even before you put fork to antler, there are safety concerns. Just hauling a carcass away can expose you to all sorts of pathogens that can make you sick, Chapman warned.
Lavin said he had never eaten roadkill himself but had no misgivings about offering the run-over meat to those who can use it -- though for safety's sake, he advised anyone pondering these "meals under wheels" to take air temperature and the length of time the animal has been lying on the road into consideration.
"It's like any other meat – if you leave it outside the refrigerator for a couple of hours, you aren't going to want to eat it," he said.
Should you decide that flattened moose is what's for dinner, Chapman advised using a meat thermometer and cooking large game to a temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. When dressing the carcass, keep it away from other foods, scrub work surfaces with bleach afterward, and wash hands thoroughly.