By VerenaA Schmitt-Roschmann
Associated Press Writer
BERLIN – It was a big shot. A big hog. And a big
When Georg van Bebber hauled back his wild boar from Ebersberg
forest near Munich after a day of hunting, he was exhilarated about
his impressive prey.
But before he could take it home, a Geiger counter showed a
problem: The boar’s meat was radioactive to an extent considered
potentially dangerous for consumption. It needed to be thrown out
“I really would have liked to have this boar,” van Bebber said
when he recounted the incident in a telephone interview from
Almost a quarter century after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear
meltdown in Ukraine, its fallout is still a hot topic in some
German regions, where thousands of boars shot by hunters still turn
up with excessive levels of radioactivity. In fact, the numbers are
higher than ever before.
The total compensation the German government paid last year for
the discarded contaminated meat shot up to a record sum of
euro425,000 (about $558,000), from only about euro25,000 ten years
ago, according to the Federal Environment Ministry in Berlin.
“The reason is that there are more and more boars in Germany,
and more are being shot and hunted, that is why more contaminated
meat turns up,” spokesman Thomas Hagbeck told The Associated
“But this also shows how long radioactive fallout remains a
problem in the environment,” he said.
Boars are among the species most susceptible to long-term
consequences of the nuclear catastrophe 24 years ago. Unlike other
wild game, boars often feed on mushrooms and truffles which tend to
store radioactivity and they plow through the contaminated soil
with their snouts, experts say.
However, boars are actually the beneficiaries of another
ecological crisis – climate change.
Central Europe is turning into a land of plenty for the animals,
as warmer weather causes beech and oak trees to overproduce seeds
and farmers to grow more crops the boars like to feast on such as
corn or rape, said Torsten Reinwald of the German Hunting
“The number of boars in Germany has quadrupled or quintupled
over the last years, as has the number of boars shot,” Reinwald
said, adding that other countries like France and Poland are seeing
a similar proliferation of boars.
Last season, hunters brought home a record 640,000, and
following that trend, the amount of contaminated meat also went off
the charts. Judging from the total compensation paid out in 2009,
about 2,000 to 4,000 boars were found to have levels above the 600
becquerel of radioactivity per kilogram allowed for human
consumption. That compares to about 125 to 250 a decade ago.
“The impact of the Chernobyl fallout in Germany, in general, has
decreased,” said Florian Emrich, spokesman of the Federal Office
for Radiation Protection. For example, radiation has ceased to be a
problem on fields cultivated with commercial crops, he said.
But forest soil in specific regions that were hit hardest after
Chernobyl – parts of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg in southern
Germany – still harbors high amounts of radioactive Cesium-137
which has a half life of roughly 30 years, Emrich said.
In fact, the Cesium from the Chernobyl fallout is moving further
into the ground and has now reached exactly the layer where the
boars’ favorite truffles grow, the Hunting Association’s Reinwald
said. Therefore, the season for such truffles – a variety not eaten
by humans – usually means a rising number of radioactive boars.
Experts so far have no evidence that the animals suffer from the
relatively low levels of radioactivity accumulating in their
bodies. Still authorities are striving to make sure no tainted meat
enters the human food chain.
Hunters and authorities go out of their way assuring consumers
that none of the problematic meat will end up on their tables.
“We can guarantee that there is no contaminated meat on the
market,” said Ulrich Baade, spokesman for the regional hunters
association in Baden-Wuerttemberg. “In problematic regions, every
single hunted boar will be tested for radioactivity before being
Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg have dozens of testing stations,
many of which are run by hunters, and the compensation promised by
the German Atomic Energy Law gives them a financial incentive to
hand over radioactive meat.
“For a young boar you get 100 Euros from the government, for a
larger boar 200,” Guenther Baumer, a veterinarian running a testing
station in Bavaria, said. “That fully covers the damage.”
In fact, it might sometimes be even more lucrative to sell to
the state than to commercial outlets.
Hunter van Bebber said that with the gigantic numbers of boars
pushing onto the market prices sometimes hit lows of only euro1 per
kilogram (about $1.30 for 2.2 pounds) while probably averaging at
around euro2.50. For an average 35 kilograms of meat per animal
that would mean only about euro90.
Therefore, not everybody is as unhappy as van Bebber.
“The disappointment (when radioactivity is found in meat) is
usually rather limited,” said vet Baumer.