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Lead found in venison collected from Minnesota food shelves
Star Tribune
April 10, 2008

Minnesota officials announced today that laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of lead fragments in a number of venison samples collected from Minnesota food shelves.

No reports of illness associated with the venison have been made, but the state has directed food shelves to destroy remaining venison. Consumers who have venison obtained from a Minnesota food shelf are asked to throw it away.

“The venison donated through this state program is subject to the same standard set for regulated food companies,” Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said. “One person could eat this venison and receive a high dose of lead, whereas another person might not ingest any lead at all. Since it can’t be determined with certainty who might receive meat with a high dose of lead, we need to err on the side of caution.”

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) laboratory tested 299 samples of venison donated to food shelves through Minnesota’s Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program. The tests found lead fragments in 76 samples; The amount varied from 0.185 milligrams to 46.3 milligrams. The high level of variability among samples means that no generalizations can be made and that additional testing is needed. However, because food shelves often serve at-risk individuals such as young children and pregnant women, state officials chose to have food shelves destroy the product.

The initial venison samples came from a custom processor in Bemidji and distribution centers in Duluth and Rochester. Since November 2007, the program has distributed nearly 78,000 pounds of venison to 97 food shelves across Minnesota. As of April 8, the food shelves had roughly 12,000 pounds of venison remaining.

Samples first were examined by X-ray radiography at a commercial food inspection company, and the MDA laboratory conducted subsequent lead analysis. The tests examined both ground venison and whole cuts. Results varied according to the type of venison (ground vs. whole-cut) and the location from which the sample was collected. MDA tests found the lead fragments were not uniformly distributed in the meat. This made it difficult to assess an “average” dose a person might consume from a single serving.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), elevated levels of lead in the bloodstream can harm both children and adults, but the exact level at which health impacts occur can depend on a variety of factors. The most at-risk groups are children under 6 and pregnant women. While high-level lead poisoning can be fatal, the symptoms of low-level lead consumption may not be obvious.

“We don’t have enough information or samples to make broad conclusions yet, but based on the available data it appears there is a chance someone could get a harmful dose of lead by eating this product,” Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan said. “We support the decision to destroy the remaining product, and we will work with MDA and DNR to address any food safety concerns moving forward.”

Most adults can tolerate small amounts of lead exposure without noticeable symptoms, but pregnant women and children face potential risk from even short-term and relatively low-level exposure. MDH recommends that people contact a doctor if they have concerns about potential lead exposure.

The Minnesota Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program is operated by MDA in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and state food shelves. The program requires that all donated deer be processed by licensed food processors.
 
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