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MDA to test donated venison; food shelves asked to hold onto meat

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has announced it will test venison donated through the state's voluntary venison donation program to determine whether it contains low levels of lead.

Meanwhile, MDA is advising Minnesota food shelves that accepted venison through the program to withhold distribution of the meat until testing is complete.

While officials are not aware of any reports of lead in Minnesota venison, the state is taking the action as a precaution. North Dakota took similar action this week after tests in that state found small amounts of lead in ground venison.

"Minnesota sets a very high standard for food safety," Commissioner Gene Hugoson said. "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."

"People are exposed to very low levels of lead and other heavy metals in a number of ways in daily life," said Daniel Symonik, supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Health lead poisoning prevention program. "The question we need to investigate is whether the venison contains lead, and if it does, whether it's at a level that requires intervention."

MDA will collect samples of the venison from the food shelves to conduct laboratory testing. Until the results of those tests are known, MDA has asked food shelves to not distribute the ground venison remaining in their possession.

The Minnesota Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program is operated by MDA in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and state food shelves. Through the program, deer hunters can donate harvested deer. The program requires that all donated deer be processed by licensed and inspected meat processors. The program has distributed nearly 78,000 pounds of venison to 97 food shelves across Minnesota.