Minnesota food shelves will be able to accept venison donated by deer hunters again this fall, thanks to major changes designed to keep lead bullet fragments out of the meat.
Officials feared that the program, which encourages hunters to thin a burgeoning state deer herd, might have to be ended after lead fragments were found earlier this year in ground venison donated to food shelves.
Among the changes:
All donated venison must be processed into whole cuts -- no ground venison will be accepted.
Processors and food shelves participating in the program must attend a training seminar on preventing contamination.
Meat with extensive shot damage will not be accepted.
All venison donated through the 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. The final wording hasn't been decided, but the state Health Department likely will recommend that food-shelf users not feed the venison to children under 6 or to pregnant women.
"Those people are most susceptible to even low levels of lead,'' said Health Department spokesman Doug Schultz.
Officials said the switch from ground venison to whole-meat pieces likely will mean fewer processors will participate in the program, and the whole-meat might not be as popular with food-shelf users as the ground venison.
"We worked hard to save the program,'' said Lou Cornicelli, Department of Natural Resources big game program leader. "I don't see any way around it. I realize this doesn't please everybody, but the alternative was no program.''