St. Paul – State officials have asked food shelves that accepted
hunter-donated venison to halt distribution of the meat. The move
came after ground venison at food pantries in North Dakota tested
positive for lead.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has collected venison
samples from food shelves for testing, and recommended they hang
onto the meat for now. And to those folks who have venison in the
“It’s a decision we are leaving up to folks to make on their
own,” said Michael Schommer, of MDA.
Officials in Wisconsin and Iowa are following a similar course,
while officials in North Dakota halted distribution and told food
shelves how to dispose of the meat.
The lead situation came to light when a Bismarck physician, Dr.
William Cornatzer, reported that he found lead fragments from
bullets in ground venison. He collected 95 packages of ground
venison that were donated to food pantries; X-rays detected metal
in 53 of them. The Department of Health later tested five samples,
all of which tested positive for lead.
There have been no reports in Minnesota of lead in venison.
“While we are not aware of complaints or reports of illness tied
to lead in Minnesota venison, we are erring on the side of
caution,” Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said.
Hunters donated the venison that’s now under scrutiny as part of
the state’s donation program, operated by MDA and the DNR. Nearly
78,000 pounds of venison from deer shot during the 2007 season was
distributed to 97 food locations.
State officials are in the midst of testing venison, which
should be complete by the end of this week or early next week.
Some sportsmen criticized the warnings that ground venison could
be contaminated by lead from bullets. National Shooting Sports
Foundation officials, in a statement about Minnesota and North
Dakota, said the decision to halt venison distribution is an
“unfortunate and unnecessary overreaction.”
“The decision to take nourishing, high-protein food out of the
mouths of the needy was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of
the chemistry of elemental lead and the human digestive system,”
according to the NSSF. “The state is needlessly creating a scare
upon hunters that has no basis in science. We strongly urge North
Dakota and Minnesota health officials to reconsider their decision
and for other states to base their public policy decision on sound
State officials acknowledged the need for more testing, but said
lead ingestion is particularly dangerous for children under 6 years
old and pregnant women. It’s also hazardous to adults, but at
higher levels, said Daniel Symonik, supervisor of the lead
poisoning prevention program for the Minnesota Department of
While people are exposed to lead in a variety of ways, officials
want to know, first, if venison in Minnesota contains lead, and,
second, if it’s at levels that are cause for concern.
“We don’t want to unduly scare anybody, but on the other hand,
we don’t want to discount it either,” Symonik said.
There haven’t been any reports in the state that lead in venison
is a problem, but it’s also unlikely someone would eat venison, get
sick later on, and connect the two events, he said.
Some studies have shown that lead fragments can move as far as
12 inches from where a bullet enters, but hunters who process their
own deer probably have a good feel for how well they cleaned out
the area, Symonik said. While MDA has asked food shelves to not
distribute ground venison, people should make their own decisions
about eating the meat, he said.
“Common sense is usually a pretty good guide,” Symonik said.
“You may want to hesitate and think twice before having a small
child eat a meal of it at this point.”
Lou Cornicelli, the DNR’s big-game program coordinator, said
state officials handled the situation correctly. He wanted to know
at what level lead actually is dangerous to humans, and “where it
measures with other risks that we have.”
High-velocity, soft-point rifle ammunition fragments more than
slower-moving shotgun shells and muzzleloader slugs, Cornicelli
said, but he hasn’t seen any studies about lead from bullets
For now, he’s in a wait-and-see mode.
“If it turns out there are dangerous levels at food shelves, the
implications are far broader, but we need to cross that bridge when
we get there,” Cornicelli said. “I’m not even close to that