With last week’s news that Minnesota is set to X-ray 25,000 pounds of venison donated by hunters to the state’s game sharing program for lead, one can only hope that other states don’t buy into the notion that hunter-harvested meat is somehow tainted.
Of course, if other states follow suit, that would only play into the hands of the anti-hunting faction in this country, which would like nothing better than to see hunting die over unfounded fears of lead-based ammunition. While lead-free alternatives, such as copper, are an option, copper ammunition is currently much more expensive and difficult to find than its lead-based counterparts. A ban on lead ammo could very well drive more people out of hunting.
Let’s not forget how we got to this point. A dermatologist, who also happens to serve on the board of the anti-lead Peregrine Fund, purportedly found lead in venison he obtained from North Dakota food banks last spring and set off a firestorm in the upper Midwest as to the safety of game meat harvested with lead ammo.
In response, the Centers for Disease Control, in a study conducted for the North Dakota Department of Health, tested more than 700 North Dakotans for elevated lead levels, and not one person was found to have an unsafe amount of lead in their blood. More than 80 percent of those tested ate deer meat taken with lead bullets.
The controversy should have ended there, but it didn’t. Minnesota decided to test the venison its hunters donated to food banks across the state, and in doing so found that 5.3 percent of the tested meat contained lead fragments. Even though 94.7 percent of the meat was fine, Minnesota is taking that meat away from the people that need it most, hauling it to the Twin Cities and running it through an X-ray machine.
This knee-jerk reaction is giving the entire venison donation concept a black eye, and, in the long run, may prove its undoing. It is still up in the air as to whether or not Minnesota’s program will survive past this year.
That’s unfortunate. Hunters for the Hungry-type programs help game departments realize their wildlife management objectives and provide a vital service to their communities, especially in economic times such as these. While the average citizen donates canned soup or boxed spaghetti to these relief organizations, protein-rich meat is often in short supply. In 2007 alone, Minnesota hunters donated 78,000 pounds of nutritious, high-protein venison to those in need. That represents more than 300,000 quarter-pound portions.
Those meals were probably healthier than those consumed by the majority of Americans. According to the NRA Members’ Wild Game Cookbook, a typical cut of USDA choice beef contains 6.5 grams of fat and 180 calories per 100 grams of raw meat. A venison steak or chop, on the other hand, contains just 1.4 grams of fat and 149 calories per 100 grams. Wild game has been enjoyed by hunters for generations for exactly that reason: it offers lean, nutritious, cost-effective meat that isn’t packed with growth hormones or preservatives.
And there is not one documented case of a hunter becoming ill from eating game meat taken with lead ammo.
It would be a shame if game-sharing programs were to go away because of unfounded fears over lead. If that were to happen, the anti-hunters would probably celebrate by placing an expensive, hormone-packed piece of store-bought meat on the grill, curse the deer for decimating their gardens as they toss a fresh salad, sit down to a hearty meal and wonder in amazement at a story in the newspaper about the local homeless shelter facing a food shortage.
Then they’ll make a mental note to donate a few boxes of spaghetti during the next food drive.