BISMARCK, N.D. A North Dakota program that distributes venison to the needy will accept only deer killed with arrows, fearing that firearm-shot meat may contain lead fragments.
"We're calling out to bow hunters to spend a little more time in the tree stand," said Ann Pollert, executive director of the North Dakota Community Action Partnership, which administers the Sportsmen Against Hunger Program.
Officials in North Dakota and other states have warned about eating venison killed with lead ammunition since the spring, when a physician conducting tests using a CT scanner found lead in samples of donated deer meat.
The findings led North Dakota's health department to order food pantries to throw out donated venison. Some groups that organize venison donations have called such actions premature and unsupported by science.
The North Dakota Community Action Partnership distributed 17,000 pounds of venison from 381 donated deer after last year's hunting season, a number that has tripled since the program began in North Dakota in 2004, Pollert said. At least 4,000 pounds of venison were in food pantries in the state when the health department issued its warning, she said.
Pollert said her group had been waiting on findings from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been studying potential health risks for people who eat venison killed with high-velocity ammunition.
The results of the federal study were expected last month but have been delayed. North Dakota's deer season opens Friday.
"We had to make a decision," Pollert said.
A draft report has been completed but it has not been released, said Dr. Stephen Pickard, a CDC epidemiologist who works with the state Health Department in Bismarck.
"It has to go through clearance and cross-clearance," he said. "The wheels of government are just grinding."
North Dakota health officials and the CDC collected blood samples in May from 738 people as young as 2, Pickard said. Most were collected from adults who had eaten venison killed with high-velocity ammo, though some samples were taken from people who had eaten pheasants and waterfowl shot with either lead or non-lead pellets, he said.
A study by Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources that fragments from lead bullets spread as far as 18 inches away from the wound. That state's health department has advised that children under 6 and pregnant women avoid eating venison.
Those groups are most at risk from lead poisoning, which can cause confusion, learning problems and convulsions, and in severe cases can lead to brain damage and death.
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