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The Earl Peck Story

When North Carolina businessman Earl Peck opened his exotic foods distribution business in 1993, little did he know that what began as a promising entrepreneurial venture would turn into a regulatory nightmare that has yet to end.

Peck prided himself on filling a wide variety of orders from restaurants all over the country as well as from individuals seeking exotic meats. He sold alligator, rattlesnake, emu, lion and even camel meat. Everything was perfectly legal. He registered his business, called International Home Cooking, with the North Carolina Secretary of State's Office, which told him all he needed was an inspection by the county health department, which he dutifully obtained. All the meat he sold he purchased from established suppliers that submitted to inspections either by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the state. He advertised his business openly in newspapers and even sent a flier to the White House chef. His business was a great success with sales reaching $100,000 by 1995.

Then in November 1995, Peck sold some black bear meat to a man claiming to be a contractor. But after Peck accepted payment from the man, cars swarmed into the parking lot and a half-dozen men jumped out. Peck was surrounded, thrown against a car and frisked. He thought he was being robbed. As it turns out, the men - including his alleged customer - were United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) agents who were investigating him for allegedly selling bear meat illegally. They drove to Peck's home and spent four hours ransacking his house, seizing business files and downloading files from his computer. He was told that his offense carried a penalty of $20,000 and/or five years in prison.

Peck doesn't understand how he could have broken any law since he purchased the black bear meat from a legitimate South Dakota supplier that was USDA-inspected. Neither is the state of North Carolina certain that he broke a law. The North Carolina Wildlife Commission points to a state law that forbids the sale of bear and deer meat - although that law was ostensibly aimed to stop poaching of bear and deer native to the state. On the other hand, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, which inspects meat, found that there was nothing illegal in Peck's business.

In May 1996, the U.S. Attorney's office sent Peck a letter informing him that he wouldn't be prosecuted due to "insufficient federal interest." But that was not enough to save Peck's business. He was forced to shut down after the 1995 raid because he still could not get a definitive answer from state officials over what he can sell.
Source: Earl Peck