A Method for Estimating Caribou Consumption by Northern Canadians


  • B.L. Tracy
  • G.H. Kramer




aboriginal foods, caribou, cesium-137, radiocesium, traditional foods


Caribou is an important source of protein in the diet of northern Canadians. It is also an important pathway for airborne environmental contaminants that concentrate in the lichen - caribou - human food chain. We present a method for estimating caribou consumption that is independent of questionnaires and dietary surveys. The method is based on direct, whole-body measurements of fallout radiocesium in northern caribou consumers and on measurements of the concentrations of radiocesium in the meat. From the 1989-90 surveys of five Arctic communities, we obtained the following mean (90th percentile) intakes of caribou meat in grams per day: Baker Lake - males 65 (141), females 41 (88); Rae-Edzo - males 42 (103), females 31 (80); Old Crow - males 41 (108), females 23 (59); Fort McPherson - males 41 (77), females 32 (68); Aklavik - males 20 (47), females 15 (37). Compared with surveys carried out in the late 1960s, these values indicate a twofold to fourfold decrease in caribou consumption over a period of 20 years. A dietary survey questionnaire administered during the 1989-90 survey provided useful information on the consumption of various caribou organs, methods of meat preparation, and consumption of other traditional foods.