- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Organizations that donate nearly 1 million pounds of venison to food banks annually say growing concerns about lead bullet fragments in the meat are premature.

“I don’t think we’ve seen enough to be alarmed or concerned at this point,” said Josh Wilson, national operations director for Williamsport, Md.-based Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry. “If anything, a little more study is needed.”

Mr. Wilson’s group oversees donations of more than 282,000 pounds of venison in 27 states annually.

His comments came after the North Dakota Health Department told state food pantries late last month to throw out donated venison after all five samples the agency examined tested “strongly positive” for lead.

Minnesota followed suit last week, directing food banks and soup kitchens to destroy any venison after tests revealed varying levels of lead fragments in 76 of 299 samples.

Iowa briefly banned venison distribution late last month but lifted the order April 1 after testing 10 samples and finding that eight had no detectable lead and two had less than 1 part per million, which the agency said presented no recognized risk for lead exposure.

Ingesting lead can cause significant health problems for young children and pregnant women.

Safari Club International, which donated 317,000 pounds of venison to the needy last year through its Sportsmen Against Hunger program, said the state agencies appeared to be rushing to judgment.

“This is disheartening, and we certainly don’t think this program should come to an end on the unscientific assessment that has occurred here,” Doug Burdin, a lawyer for the Tucson, Ariz., group, told the Associated Press in North Dakota.

Hunters for the Hungry, based in Big Island, Va., distributed more than 363,000 pounds of venison to Virginia food banks last year, director Laura Newell-Furniss said. She, too, said more study is needed before venison donations are banned.

“People have been eating venison for centuries from deer that were killed with lead bullets and we haven’t been aware of any problems with that,” she said.

Jody Menikheim, who oversees meat-processor inspections for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the agency would discuss with state Agriculture Department veterinarians the possibility of venison lead testing next fall when the meat donations are made.

The statewide Maryland Food Bank receives 500 pounds of donated venison annually and doesn’t want to lose it, spokeswoman Shanna Yetman said.

“We’re always really excited to get this type of donation because there’s a lot of protein in deer meat. It’s very nutritious. It’s a good product,” she said.

Associated Press writer James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D., contributed to this story.

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