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Lead in Venison

In March 2008, the North Dakota departments of Health, Agriculture, and Game and Fish advised food pantries across the state not to distribute or use donated ground venison because of the discovery of contamination with lead fragments.

In May 2008, the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study measuring the risk, if any, of eating wild game harvested with lead bullets. A total of 738 North Dakotans volunteered to have their blood tested for the presence of lead.

The study was designed to determine whether people who eat wild game have higher blood lead levels than people who don't. Although no single study is definitive, the results of this study are expected to provide the North Dakota Department of Health with an estimate of the risk to health of consuming wild game that has been taken with lead bullets. By using the results of this study and studies ongoing in other states, we expect to be able to provide recommendations to hunters about the safety of consuming wild game for themselves and for their families and the best ways to minimize any risk.

The CDC sent study participant the results of their blood lead level tests in September and released preliminary study results on Nov. 5, 2008.

Based on the results of the CDC blood lead level study and a Minnesota bullet study, the North Dakota Department of Health has developed the following recommendations to minimize the risk of harm to people who are most vulnerable to the effects of lead:

  • Pregnant women and children younger than 6 should not eat any venison harvested with lead bullets.
  • Older children and other adults should take steps to minimize their potential exposure to lead, and use their judgment about consuming game that was taken using lead-based ammunition.
  • The most certain way of avoiding lead bullet fragments in wild game is to hunt with non-lead bullets.
  • Hunters and processors should follow the processing recommendations developed by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

These are recommendations only; they are intended to help the citizens of North Dakota to make informed choices. Not every state will necessarily issue the same recommendations. 

More information about this issue is available by following the links on the left.