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Tribune editorial: Destroying food shelf venison is overkill by state

What a waste.

With hunger a growing problem, the Becker County Food Pantry is going to have to throw away 380 pounds of frozen venison.

This after hunters did the right thing -- donating money for the cause and bringing harvested deer to respected local meat processing businesses.

The meat was processed by Hoffman's and Lakes Processing, so Food Pantry Director Jack Berenz says he has no doubt it is good to eat, but the State Agriculture Department has now ordered that it be destroyed.

The state has directed Minnesota food shelves to destroy any venison they have because it may contain lead, and is advising consumers with food-shelf venison to throw it away.

State officials say lab tests have confirmed varying amounts of lead fragments in venison samples collected from food shelves in Minnesota.

Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson says one person could eat the venison and get a high dose, while someone else might not ingest any lead at all. Since there's no way to tell, he says, they decided to err on the side of caution.

Lead bullet fragments found in venison at North Dakota food shelves sparked the Minnesota action.

Making food shelves throw away all that good venison is overkill. Hunters have been eating venison and game birds killed with lead shot since bullets and shogun shells were invented, without much more in the way of problems than having to pick a few BBs out of their grouse dinner.

People shopping at food shelves should at least be given the option of whether they want the venison or not.

Berenz himself said he would have no qualms about eating the donated deer meat, but now he will have to follow state orders and destroy the venison.

Minnesota food shelves receive venison through the Minnesota Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program, which is operated by the MDA and DNR with state funding.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture laboratory tested 299 samples of venison donated to food shelves through the program, and found various levels of lead fragments in 76 of the samples. The amount of lead varied from 0.183 milligrams to 46.3 milligrams. The high level of variability means no generalizations can be made and more testing is needed, Hugoson said.

Because food shelves often serve pregnant women, young children and other people at higher risk of lead poisoning, state officials opted to have the meat destroyed. The tests included both ground venison and whole cuts of meat.

About 12,000 pounds of the 78,000 pounds donated statewide through the program remain at food shelves.