The controversy over the $21 "lion burger" being offered at Il Vinaio
in Mesa, Arizona has reached a fever pitch. The Italian-style restaurant was selling the burgers of lion meat mixed with ground beef as a celebration for the World Cup
. But once news got out about the unusual fare the restaurant was besieged with angry emails and protests. The owner said that the lions were raised at a free-range farm in Illinois that is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and that while lion meat is uncommon it is not illegal (turns out though that it's the FDA not the USDA that inspects lions bred for meat). Later investigations by the Chicago Tribune
and other sources found that the source of the meat is Czimer's Game & Sea Foods
an Illinois company that specializes in exotic and game meats including bear, camel and yes lion, selling African lion steaks for $19.95 a pound.
Richard Czimer, the company's owner, talked with CNNMoney.com
and said that he gets the lion meat from a man who buys and sells animals for the skin and that the meat is essentially a byproduct. Czimer said he doesn't know where the other man gets the lion meat. Czimer doesn't have the best track record. In 2003, Chicago newspapers covered Czimer's conviction for selling meat from federally protected tigers and leopards. He had confessed to buying the carcasses of 16 tigers, four lions, two mountain lions and one liger that were skinned, butchered and sold as "lion meat." The African lion isn't a federally protected endangered species and does qualify as a game meat. Czimer's shop is officially registered with the FDA and has been inspected by state regulators.