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Most venison won't make it to food shelf

2008 deer hunting season

PARK RAPIDS - With deer aplenty, hunters are expected to be richly rewarded when they head out to forest and field during the opener next week.

But the Hubbard County Food Shelf won't be reaping the bounty this fall.

Concerns of lead fragments in venison have led to strict processing regulations being imposed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Due to the stringent rules, Main Street Meats in Park Rapids and Shepersky's in Menahga will no longer be processing venison to be donated to food shelves.

According to the North Country Food Bank in Crookston, the new regulations have pruned the number of food shelf venison processors in the 21-county area from about 20 last year to five in 2008.

These include the Bemidji Locker and Fish Company and processors in Perham, Fertile, Newfolden and Oklee.

Dale Greenlee, manager of Main Street Meats, said he's been told deer will be X-rayed after processing. "If a single piece of lead dust is found, the entire deer will be thrown away."

Greenlee added that he will not be paid for his efforts.

Another change this year is only whole muscle cuts will be allowed, no ground venison products. MDA venison tests showed lead fragments tend to be more prevalent in ground venison.

That's a move Greenlee sees as wasteful.

Also new this year, participating processors must attend a training seminar on preventing contamination.

Food shelf director Dave Long is frustrated by the directives. "I don't think there has ever been a confirmed case of lead poisoning from venison."

Locally, venison distribution via the food shelf began in 2005 when Dale Wilkins, Main Street Meats owner at the time, agreed to donate processing.

The following year, Wilkins required a $45 donation from hunters for processing the meat, Long said.

Last year, the state kicked in $70 per deer - from fawns to bucks - for processing meat donations to the food shelf.

Venison poundage donations rose appreciably

In 2007, Main Street Meats processed more than 2,000 pounds of venison for the Hubbard County Food Shelf. Nine hundred pounds of meat were disposed of after the Department of Health determined the meat could not be used because of lead fragments, Greenlee said.

The Hubbard County Food Shelf distributed 1,100 pounds of venison last year with about 1,100 pounds arriving from Main Street Meats and 300 pounds from Sheperksy's Meat Processing; 300 additional pounds of venison were confiscated before distribution.

"This is bad," Greenlee said of the guidelines. "People shooting deer with guns spans centuries, and no one has gotten sick and died. This meat was going to a good cause to a lot of people who can use it."

"The MDA legislated (venison donations) to fail by adding too many regulations," Long said.

The state is minimizing the changes, which "is extremely misleading," Long said. "I can't blame locker plants (for discontinuing the service) when they know all the donated and processed meat may be confiscated."

Deer taken by bow hunters are under the same regulations as rifle hunters.

Meanwhile, Hubbard County Food Shelf usage is on the rise, up 25 percent in September over 2007's numbers.

Long is anticipating a marked rise in the number of requests for turkey meal basket donations during the holiday season.

Last year, 20,000 pounds of food were distributed, with 345 turkey baskets given to those in need.

Long is forecasting that amount will rise to an estimated 25,000 pounds of food.

But generous donations have been forthcoming, a recent $5,000 amount, as well as two $1,000 gifts are buoying coffers.

The Cub Scouts, Rapids Spirits and Long Lake Theater have also made significant contributions of late.

Monetary donations are always appreciated and food donations are welcome, Long said.