In action that could severely limit the programs in which hunters provide venison for charity and public food pantries, three states halted the distribution of hunter-donated deer meat last week after a report alleged that high percentages were contaminated with lead.

Last Wednesday, North Dakota health officials issued a directive to all food pantries in the state to destroy between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds of donated venison, saying it may contain lead fragments from bullets. By the end of the week, officials in Minnesota and Iowa followed with similar directives, ordering that venison in those states not be distributed to needy families until testing can be performed.


The move followed a public announcement last week from Dr. William Cornatzer, a Bismarck, N. Dakota professor, who says he discovered minute residuals of lead in 60 percent of the venison he tested that was destined for state food panties.

Hunting organizations were quick to come forward, calling the reaction exaggerated and wasteful.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association representing the shooting and hunting industry, issued a statement calling the move “an overreaction.”


“It’s alarmist and not supported by any science,” Lawrence Keane, NSSF vice president, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “High quality protein is now taken out of the mouths of needy, hungry people.”

Doug Burdin, representing Safari Club International’s Sportsmen Against Hunger Program, agreed.

“This is disheartening, and we certainly don’t think this program should come to an end on the unscientific assessment that has occurred here,” Burdin said.

Other critics of the states’ action say that Dr. Cornatzer’s data is suspect and suggest he may be attempting to further a personal anti-lead bullet agenda.

According to the Star-Tribune report, the dermatologist serves as a professor at the University of North Dakota medical school and is active in the Peregrine Fund, a group involved with conservation of birds including falcons and California condors.

The Peregrine Fund contends that fragmented lead from bullets found in the carcasses of animals killed by hunters is responsible for poisoning endangered condors. It was one of several groups supportive of California’s legislative ban of lead ammunition by hunters in the condor’s range. The ban, which will take effect in July, was opposed by the National Rifle Association and other shooting and hunting organizations.

Much like the current N. Dakota venison case, opponents to the California legislation argued that the ban was based on faulty evidence and junk science.

“There is absolutely no peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support the unfortunate and unnecessary overreaction by North Dakota and Minnesota health officials, based on an unpublished study by a local dermatologist, to have food pantries discard perfectly good meat because it was taken with traditional ammunition,” said the NSSF in its statement last week.

Stay tuned. This one is far from finished.

Read Andrew McKean’s take over at OL’s Gun Shots blog.