Minnesota food shelves will halt distribution of venison donated by hunters after lead particles were discovered in ground venison at North Dakota food shelves.

Authorities urged that any donated meat that had already left the food shelves not be eaten.

The Minnesota venison will be tested for lead fragments.

Hunters donated about 78,000 pounds of venison last fall, the first year of the statewide program paid for by the state and hunter donations. Officials said they don’t know how much already has been consumed.

Minnesota officials took the action after the North Dakota Department of Health told food pantries there Wednesday to throw out 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of donated venison after a physician found lead bullet fragments in 60 percent of the samples tested. Another 12,000 pounds of venison already has been distributed.

The doctor, William Cornatzer of Bismarck, N.D. — an avid big-game hunter — said hunters should reconsider eating any deer or big game shot with lead bullets from high-powered rifles.

Those bullets fragment on impact and can spread lead far beyond the entrance wounds, he said.

“This is very disturbing news that we found,” Cornatzer said.

Deer killed with shotgun slugs or muzzleloader slugs shouldn’t pose a problem because those slugs don’t fragment, he said.

While the findings surprised state officials in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, they also provoked some skepticism.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the shooting, hunting and firearms industry, sharply criticized the North Dakota action.

“There is absolutely no peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support the unfortunate and unnecessary overreaction by health officials in North Dakota to have food pantries discard perfectly good meat because it was taken with traditional ammunition,” the foundation said in a statement.

It said the decision “was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the chemistry of lead and the human digestive system. The state is needlessly creating a scare upon hunters that has no basis in science.”

In Wisconsin, the head of the venison-donation program expressed doubts, too.

“I thought it was preposterous that a bullet would leave that much residue,” said Laurie Fike. “My feeling is the lead got in there some other way. I have a lot of questions.”

She said state officials will discuss the situation today.

Wisconsin hunters donated 414,000 pounds of venison last fall to food shelves — five times the amount in Minnesota. While Minnesota’s program is new, Wisconsin’s has been operating for years.

Cornatzer, 53, a dermatologist and professor at the University of North Dakota medical school in Grand Forks, said consuming lead is a problem.

“It’s not rocket science, if you put it in your stomach, you absorb it,” he said. “We know lead is a severe neurotoxin, especially in young children and women of child-bearing age.”

“I’m a big-game hunter, and have been since I was 13,” said Cornatzer, who has hunted deer, elk, antelope, caribou and musk-ox all over the world. “I’m eating this, and I fed this to my own children. This is terrible.”

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