Tricounty News

Hunters: donate venison to food shelves

Hunters again can donate venison to food shelves at no cost this year because of changes to the venison donation program managed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), with assistance from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "MDA and DNR came together to support the program," said Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program coordinator. "One change this year is that only whole muscle cuts will be available at food shelves and no ground venison products." Concerns about lead fragments surfaced earlier this year when tests conducted by MDA showed that some venison in food shelves contained some lead. The discovery of those fragments resulted in the removal of all hunter-harvested venison from Minnesota food shelves. MDA venison tests showed that lead fragments tended to be more prevalent in ground venison. The results of a DNR bullet fragmentation study show that copper bullets (and lead bullets fully jacketed with copper) fragment less than lead bullets. The venison donation program provides a sought-after food source to those in need. Having the program available may also encourage hunters to harvest additional animals to help manage the deer herd. Until 2007, hunters could donate deer to food shelves but had to pay processing costs. Now hunters can bring surplus deer to registered processors at no cost and the state reimburses participating processors. Hunters may donate to the program when purchasing a deer license by voluntarily giving $1, $3, or $5 to the program. Any interested individual also can give by visiting one of 1,800 Electronic License System (ELS) agents statewide. To donate a deer, hunters must adhere to the following guidelines: only whole carcasses with the hide on can be donated; processors will not accept cut and wrapped meat or portions of carcasses. Information such as permit area of harvest and Minnesota DNR number will be collected for tracking purposes. Processors can only accept carcasses for donation that are: free from signs of illness; free of visible decomposition or contamination; properly identified with a Minnesota DNR registration tag. Processors will reject deer with extensive shot damage or that appear to have been mishandled in any way. New regulations designed to reduce the frequency of lead fragments in meat and inform people that hunter-harvested may contain lead fragments include: all donated venison must be processed into whole cuts - no ground venison will be accepted. Participating processors and food shelves must attend a training seminar on preventing contamination. All product donated through the venison donation program must be labeled, and the labeling must include the identification number or name of the processing plant where the meat was processed. A lead advisory statement will be distributed along with the donated venison; in it, the Minnesota Department of Health will recommend that food shelf users not feed the venison to children younger than six or to pregnant women. Hunters are strongly advised to contact the processor prior to donating the deer. The list of processors accepting deer will be continually updated as more processors register. More details on the venison donation program, as well as a list of participating meat processors, are available online at //mndnr.gov/hunting/deer/donation. Results of a study designed to give hunters information about bullet fragmentation tendencies is available at //mndnr.gov/lead.