For generations, hunters have been shooting deer with lead bullets and eating the venison with no ill effects. In fact, there is not one documented case of a citizen ever becoming ill because of eating venison taken with a rifle bullet.
Moreover, a recent CDC study, in which more than 700 North Dakota residents were tested for lead levels, found not one single individual with unacceptably high amounts of lead in the blood. (That study was requested by the North Dakota Department of Health, because of allegations made earlier this year that venison intended for food banks contained excessive levels of lead. Click here for more background.)
Yet the “issue” of lead in venison continues to unnecessarily alarm people. Despite the conclusions of the CDC study, North Dakota’s Sportsman Against Hunger program decided to accept only archery-taken venison, and the North Dakota Department of Health issued recommendations not to use lead ammunition, and discouraged food pantries from accepting ground venison taken with lead bullets.
Now, we learn from a story in Minnesota’s Star-Tribune that up to 25,000 pounds of venison, intended for food banks in the state, will have to be X-rayed before it is distributed. The decision came when random testing revealed that 5.3 percent of sampled deer meat contained “lead fragments.”
One of the many spirited comments on the story said, “Good god. How much money is being spent on this nonsense?”
The answer is 30 cents a pound. But the unnecessary expense is not the only problem. The testing will delay the delivery of badly needed food to hungry families. It’s being collected from all over the state and moved to the Twin Cities for testing. Moreover, state officials are considering eliminating the venison donation program altogether. According to the article, “Officials plan to confer with legislators, hunters, processors, food shelves and other stakeholders in coming months to determine whether the donation program will continue.”
Yet the same article quotes Nicole Neeser, manager of the meat inspection program of the state Department of Agriculture, as saying, “But we expect at least 95 percent of the product will be free of lead and will be able to go to food shelves.”
In whose mind does any of this make sense? We have the human proof that people have eaten deer meat for generations will no ill affects from lead bullets. We have the CDC study, released just last month, with lab results confirming no elevated lead levels. We have hungry Americans who need food. (Hopefully they are among the “other stakeholders” Minnesota officials will involve in discussions to cancel the venison distribution).
Perhaps most of all, we have hunters who want to continue using lead ammunition. Every time a state agency shows nervousness over venison’s imaginary health concerns, anti-hunting groups use it to object to the use of lead ammunition. The Humane Society of the United States, for example, recently called for a ban on all lead ammunition.
In case they are somehow not aware of it, state agencies need to understand that the high cost of non-lead bullets, and the minimal number of manufacturers who make them, are two forces that can actually reduce the number of people who hunt—and that has far-reaching effects. Game and fish departments nationwide are making attempts to increase the number of hunters—both for the good of wildlife management and because virtually all their funding comes from hunters and fishermen. Minnesota has many areas where high numbers of deer are causing problems—problems that hunting solves.
Then there are the economic benefits of hunting. In Minnesota alone in 2006, hunting-related retail sales totaled $637,270,173. Minnesota hunters also generated $75,882,194 in state taxes, plus $86,158,974 in federal tax revenues.*
Reduce the number of hunters, and the game populations and the economy suffer.
It’s worth noting that just about all the state wildlife agencies have publicly called for hunters to continue donating meat to Hunters for the Hungry programs. To see Minnesota eliminate such a program would be tragic. To see it eliminated because of concerns over lead would be criminal.
*Source: Hunting in America, from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies