Deer Meat Donated to Iowa Needy Tested for Lead
DES MOINES, Iowa, March 31, 2008 (ENS) - Distribution of deer venison through food pantries around the state is being stopped until samples can be taken to determine if there is a risk due to contamination from lead fragments.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which administers the Help Us Stop Hunger, HUSH, program, is working with the Iowa Department of Public Health to collect and sample deer meat to determine if there is potential for lead contamination.

The state of North Dakota issued an advisory Wednesday urging food pantries across the state to not distribute or use donated ground venison through its hunter donation program after 53 of 95 packages detected metals through x-ray testing.

The decision to put an advisory on meat collected through Iowa's HUSH program was made immediately after learning of North Dakota's findings.

The Iowa DNR is contacting food pantries to begin collecting samples that can be analyzed for the potential of lead contamination that might occur when an animal is harvested through firearms hunting.

More than 25,000 deer have been donated to hunger problems in the last five years representing more than four million meal servings. HUSH is a cooperative effort among deer hunters, the Food Bank of Iowa, meat lockers and the Iowa DNR to reduce the deer population while providing red meat to the needy in Iowa.

There have been no reports of lead poisoning in Iowa related to consumption of venison. Anyone who is concerned about the safety of venison in their possession can choose to wait until sample results have been analyzed for further guidance. It is not necessary, nor recommended to dispose of any venison at this time.

It is expected that test results will be available sometime this week. The Iowa Department of Public Health is being consulted to review the sampling results when they become available.

"We will be collecting samples of venison collected through Iowa's HUSH program and having those samples tested by the University Hygienic Laboratory," said Ross Harrison, coordinator of Iowa's HUSH program.

Harrison has advised food pantries and other social service agencies that distribute deer venison to cease distribution of the meat until sampling can take place, but not to dispose of the meat at this time.

"Deer venison provided through the generosity of our hunters, is a highly valuable food source for some of Iowa's less fortunate citizens. We certainly have an obligation to ensure its safety, but we also don't want to be wasteful of this valuable resource if we don't need to," said Harrison.

The primary question that must be answered comes down to firearm ballistics. Most of North Dakota's deer are harvested by high-powered rifles while Iowa deer are primarily taken by shotguns.

"There may be less fragmentation from a shotgun slug than a rifle bullet, meaning less potential for lead fragments to get ground up in the meat, but we need to do the sampling to make sure," said DNR Wildlife Bureau Chief Dale Garner.

Lead poisoning can cause health and developmental problems for young children and pregnant women. Since 1992, more than 500,000 Iowa children and more than 25,000 Iowa adults have been tested for lead poisoning. According to Iowa Department of Public Health records, none of the cases of lead poisoning identified from this testing resulted from ingestion of venison.

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