A Montana wildlife organization is criticizing Arby's restaurants for their venison and elk sandwich promotion, but probably not for the reason you might think.
Some Arby's restaurants are once again adding venison sandwiches, and now elk sandwiches, to their menus. Last year the restaurants that participated in the promotion were hugely successful with it, and this year the campaign promises to be even better for the fast food chain.
But at least one sportsmen's wildlife organization is criticizing Arby's for what they say is a promotion that sends the wrong message about wild game and Montana's hunting culture.
The Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF) sent a letter to the Arby's corporation chastising the company for using farm raised elk and deer meat in their sandwiches. MWF Executive Director Dave Chadwick said that his organization is opposed to farm raised game and that deer and elk should remain wild, not farmed, animals.
"The Arby's Corporation was probably well-intentioned in their desire to celebrate the start of hunting season in Montana and across the nation," Chadwick said. "They certainly probably had the best of intentions, but it's not the best way to honor our hunting heritage in Montana."
In addition to issues with the transfer of chronic wasting disease from farmed cervids to wild populations, Chadwick said that farmed animals are often used in canned hunts, which is deemed by many hunters to be an unethical activity.
Game farms are illegal in Montana, following a voter initiative that was put on the ballot in 2000.
"There really is a lot of symbolic value," Chadwick continued. "It's important that we recognize that wildlife need to be wild - that's a really core value. Even if it's just a seasonal fast-food promotion, that still sends a message."
Arby's, whose corporate headquarters are based in Atlanta responded the MWF's concerns by issuing a statement. It read, in part:
"We worked closely with a supplier in New Zealand to source our limited-edition venison and elk. We use meat that is grass-fed and free-range farmed using responsible practices."
The company also emphasized that it has consulted with the Georgia Wildlife Federation in preparation for the sandwich promotion to better understand the laws and policies concerning selling and serving wild game to the public.
As mentioned, last year Arby's venison sandwich promotion was a big success. Restaurants in Nashville, Tennessee, for example, sold out of the sandwiches within a few hours. This year all of Arby's 3,300 restaurants nationwide will carry the venison sandwich.
But only three select restaurants - located in Thornton, Colorado, Casper, Wyoming and Billings, Montana - will carry the new elk sandwich. Botht he venison and elk sandwiches will be available for a limited time beginning on October 21.
Arby's Chief Marketing Officer Jim Taylor said, "We took a look at what hunters and wild game enthusiasts love to talk about eating, and elk was something that kept popping up, and we said, 'this is another great tasting game meat we think our guests would enjoy it.'"
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