March 12th, 2013
08:30 PM ET
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Dying to try lion? If you live in Illinois, you'd better get your fix quickly before proposed legislation would make the "mane" course a Class A misdemeanor.

Illinois State Representative Luis Arroyo proposed HB 2991 to the state's General Assembly last month. If the Lion Meat Act passes, Illinois will become the first U.S. state to forbid lion slaughter, or for any person to possess, breed, import, export, buy or sell lions for the purpose of slaughter - making it illegal to serve or sell lion meat at restaurant, hotel or other commercial establishment. Offenders would face a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 if convicted.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, lions are not currently protected as an endangered cat in the U.S., and there are no laws prohibiting its sale. It also falls outside the USDA's inspection parameters and under those of the Food and Drug Administration, which categorizes lion as a "game meat."

Still, the king of the jungle doesn't exactly abound on American menus, so why is Arroyo mounting an attack?

“What I do know is there are two local companies in Illinois that are supposedly selling lion meat. The economy is not that bad that we have to eat lion’s meat,” Arroyo told CNN. “I have always considered lions to be in the zoo or the king of the jungle, not for consumption. Do we consume elephants too, where do we stop?”

He continued, “I want to make it illegal to butcher or sell it because if you are in the jungle and you see a lion and he’s coming at you, you might as well shoot him because he might eat you, but we are not in the jungle, so I prefer not to consume them.”

Arroyo, who did not specify the names of the companies, says he has never tried lion meat and has no plans to taste it anytime soon. But not all diners share his pride in the noble cat.

In 2012, Wichita, Kansas restaurant Taste and See came under fire when chef Jason Febres added lion meat (which he claimed was sourced from a U.S. farm) to a menu featuring exotic meats. That item was canceled after a roar of protest from consumers, but the restaurant continues to serve non-traditional animals. A "dining experience" special for March 12 includes iguana, alpaca and python.

Two year prior, Il Vinaio restaurant in Mesa, Arizona faced a bomb threat after offering a "lion burger" (ground lion meat mixed with other animals) in honor of the 2010 FIFA World Cup's South African location. The proprietors were told that the animals were raised on a USDA-regulated free-range farm in Illinois, but according to a CNN Money report, the meat arrived in a box from Czimer's Game & Sea Foods - a butcher shop in Homer Glen, Illinois.

The proprietor, Richard Czimer, has been cited for food-related offenses from bear meat mislabeling and insufficient temperature regulation of exotic meat slim jims to illegally buying and selling tiger and leopard meat – which led to a six-month prison sentence in 2003. Czimer told CNN Money that the lion meat (which he mixed with tiger, mountain lion and liger meat) was a byproduct from another man's skinning operation and he had opted not to follow the supply chain any further.

Family-owned Eickman's Processing Co., which opened in Seward, Illinois in 1953, has processed exotic meat including black bear and lion, but proprietor Tom Eickman told Grub Street Chicago the lion meat that come to them was all farm-raised, mostly from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Eickman’s is one of 16 slaughter facilities in Illinois to process exotic meat, and it is the only one that intakes lions.

While African lion (loin roast and steaks $19.95 per pound, ribs $9.98 per pound) is currently listed as "not available" on Czimer's site (though yak and alpaca are ready for purchase), in 2010 chef Dave Arnold of the International Culinary Center purchased several exotic meats including beaver, yak and lion from the distributor and chronicled his kitchen process on CookingIssues.com.

"Bears and lions are raised by big game dealers for circuses, exotic pet enthusiasts and zoos," Arnold wrote. "When those animals get too old to breed or their owners discard them they are slaughtered for their fur and the meat goes to Czimer’s. Sad but true. If the animals are being slaughtered, it is a sin not to eat them."

Arnold found the meat to be tough and pork-like in flavor, but "with a special savory twang" and in the final assessment, decided he'd stick with the easier-to-find swine. Arnold later told DNA Info that after learning of the distributor's previous dealings, he would not order from Czimer's again.

Arroyo also cited the species' potential extinction as an impetus for the bill. A recent study published in Biodiversity and Conservation and funded in part by National Geographic Big Cats Initiative found that only 32,000 lions remain out of the 100,000 that were roaming Africa in the 1960s.

Wild animal advocacy group Born Free USA embarked on an undercover investigation into the lion meat trade in 2011, and as part of their campaign to curb the trade, have petitioned to have African lion listed as "endangered" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that the petition presented substantial evidence indicating that listing this subspecies may be warranted, but has yet to issue a finding.

Born Free USA, executive vice president Adam Roberts issued a statement applauding Arroyo for introducing this bill, saying, "The lion meat industry is fraught with regulatory pitfalls and shortcomings that place people and lions at risk. People who are interested in lions should focus on ways to protect them in the wild where they belong, not ‘farm’ them for their cubs and meat for cheap thrills, and restaurant gimmicks."

Not every Illinois resident was enthused by Arroyo's use of his platform. Illinois Policy Institute executive vice president Kristina Rasmussen tweeted a link to the bill with the commentary, "Because Illinois has no more pressing problem then lion meat: introducing the Lion Meat Act" and later that, "Legislators have bigger issues to tame than the commercialization of lion meat."

Additional reporting by Carma Hassan, CNN

Previously:
Horse meat, little blue balls and other weird stuff in your food this week
'Traces of horse DNA' found in some Nestle products
Horse: Coming soon to a meat case near you?
Poll – making a meal of mustang
Top Chef trots into taboo territory

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Filed under: Meat • Taboos


soundoff (141 Responses)
  1. sonja malecki

    no I would not

    September 10, 2014 at 5:06 pm |
  2. Name*lady luck

    LEAVE THE LIONS ALONE. ARE YOU GOING TO BE LOW GRADE HUMAN THAT EAT DOGS N CATS IN BRUTAL KILLED MANNERS. LEAVE N PROTECT THE LIONS I REPEAT

    February 12, 2014 at 5:53 pm |
  3. aysha

    disgusting!!

    February 9, 2014 at 7:07 am |
  4. please stop

    please stop

    February 9, 2014 at 6:24 am |
  5. WTF

    God damn, America has some dumb ignorant greedy mother f_ckers in it. I'm so glad I don't know any of you fools! From Lions roaming into peoples back yards to comparing lions to cows...get a life and get some education, morons!

    July 28, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  6. Maria Shew

    This is just cruel. Since lions are part of the beautiful cat family, this is similar to eating a house cat. Imagine your (or your friends') house cat being purposely murdered,cooked, then you eating it. This is messed up. D:

    May 17, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • Razzly Faerie

      You can't "murder" an animal. And why is it messed up to eat a cat compared to any other animal? For reasons other than finding cats cute.

      July 28, 2013 at 8:05 am |
  7. ekim corcho

    had some lion meat in africa recently, it was great. had it like steak and some great sauce. red wine is best with it.

    May 10, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  8. ekim corcho

    had some lion meat in africa recently, it was great.

    May 10, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  9. Robert

    Well done Congressman. This should be a felony and banned throughout the United States.

    May 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  10. spockmckoy

    for those who donate to 'wildlife charities' be careful who you donate to and do some research 1st. Many are fronts and have NOTHING to do with nature conservancy.

    March 25, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  11. spockmckoy

    IF you had a lion wander into your back yard while your kid was playing, would you shoot it if you could? That is what Africans do. bad day to be a lion. Nature wiped out over 95% of all species that ever lived on this planet. What nature doesn't wipe out man will. Are we part of nature? Not saying it is right or wrong, just is.

    March 25, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • juan equis

      unfortunately, your an idiot due not knowing what nature means i.e. " it includes all things natural to this planet". your not part of nature due your clearly unnnatural in your thought process, even though your probably from the Eart but most likly from Ur-ranis! Ever shoot a lion have a .50 caliber of 300 Weathersby fool! and the chance of one visiting your house or anyones, would be 1,000,000,000 to 1. Stay of the net OK

      May 10, 2013 at 1:20 am |
      • Buck

        "Your an idiot"? Now that's funny!

        May 10, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  12. spockmckoy

    reminds me of a movie I saw years ago. wealthy people got to look at live exotic animals and pick what they wanted to eat. Unknown to the rich folks, In the kitchen, a chef prepared chicken, beef, etc in fancy ways and the rich people payed high prices to eat 'exotic' meats. everybody was happy. the exotic animals were never touched, just showed before the meal.

    March 25, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  13. Michelle

    I have seen so many issues with animal's missing in the last many weeks. Is this the way we need to survive? What ever happened to planting crops? The Government is disabling the human race. If we need to prey our own animals, which has turned humans against each other, and disable them to bred for our consumption Which is to carry on., we are not living, we are killing to make an end.

    March 25, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • Michelle

      What about Baby Makoon? Toronto getting 2 panda's , yet they let 2 before age back in the wild? What's wrong with this picture?

      March 25, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  14. Grizz

    With that kind of mentality it's easy to see how our politicians turned IL into the worst fiscal state in the nation. Good thing Arroyo has his priorities in order. What's next, banning farm raised cows and chickens? IDIOT!

    March 18, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  15. Jokes_on-You

    If you want to eat a lion,then you MUST be allowed to kill it with your bear-hands,naked,in a bit of fire.

    ONLY after that,you earned your right to consume the beast

    March 15, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
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