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Changes for 2008 venison donation program to prevent lead problems

Minnesota officials today announced that the state's venison donation program will continue in 2008, though several key changes will be implemented to help avoid the donation of meat contaminated with lead fragments.

The Minnesota Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program is operated by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and state food shelves.

The program provides an avenue for hunters to donate venison to Minnesota food shelves. Earlier this year, state laboratory tests found varying amounts of lead fragments in a number of venison samples collected from Minnesota food shelves.

While no illnesses were associated with the venison, the state took the precaution of directing food shelves to destroy remaining venison and asking consumers to discard any venison obtained from a Minnesota food shelf.

Following the initial response, MDA worked with DNR and the Minnesota Department of Health to review the venison donation program to see what changes could be made to avoid similar problems in the future. This review led to the following changes for the 2008 program:

n All donated venison must be processed into whole cuts - no ground venison will be accepted;

n Processors and food shelves participating in the program must attend a training seminar focused on best-practices to prevent contamination;

n Deer with extensive damage from ammunition will not be accepted for donation;

n All product donated through the venison donation program must be labeled and the labeling must include the identification number or name of the processing plant where the meat was processed; and

n A copy of the state's lead advisory statement will be distributed along with the donated venison.

To verify the effectiveness of these measures, MDA will operate a testing program in which random samples of donated product will be examined by X-ray to detect lead fragments. Processors whose products are found to contain lead or other contaminants may be ineligible for future participation in the venison donation program.

"The state agencies coordinating this program are committed to ensuring consumer safety," Commissioner Gene Hugoson said.