The following is an editorial (opinion).
Donating venison to food banks is a great idea if the meat is free of lead – but that’s not necessarily what’s happening in Anne Arundel County currently.
Even more concerning is those consuming the venison, including children and pregnant women who are most affected by lead poisoning, have no idea they’re potentially eating lead – no one has told them.
The issue of lead fragments in venison isn’t a secret – lead bullets will fragment into tiny pieces inside of anything shot with a lead bullet.
The State of Michigan warns its residents about the health issue. Minnesota does too. North Dakota also and Wisconsin. The list goes on of states warning their citizens of the potential for lead exposure in venison, but doesn’t include Maryland.
While the knowledge that lead bullets will fragment inside of anything killed with a lead bullet is not new, what is new is that Anne Arundel County is now subsidizing a program that pays for venison that isn’t checked for lead and doesn’t require the deer to be killed by non-lead ammunition – ammunition which is widely available.
On October 28, 2020, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced the new program.
There are no shortages of venison donation programs, but bounties being paid for harvested deer is different – it’s using government funds to potentially poison people that have not been warned about the possible presence of lead in the meat they’re consuming.
According to a recent article from Environmental Health News, “The majority of deer hunters use lead ammunition, and several variables influence the extent of lead contamination in hunted meat. These include choice of firearms, choice of bullet type, whether a bullet strikes the animal’s bones, and whether the resulting meat is ground. Without X-ray inspection or chemical analysis, the extent of lead contamination in donated meat is unknown and can vary from year to year. In addition to Minnesota’s ongoing inspection program, past efforts to X-ray samples of donated meat in North Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin have also found lead contamination.”
While other states have started X-ray imaging samples of donated meat, Maryland hasn’t and because Maryland hasn’t, Anne Arundel County isn’t doing it.
I asked the Anne Arundel County Executive’s office, “Can you/anyone from the county (maybe health department?) confirm the venison donated for the program will be inspected for lead? Or if not, is venison that came from lead-alternative ammunition required for donations? “
The answer I received back from Anne Arundel County’s Director of Policy and Communications Chris Trumbauer, was “I’ve forwarded your question to Lisa Barge at AAEDC… I don’t know the answer.”
AAEDC is the Anne Arundel Economic and Development Corporation, which according to the press release about the venison donation program is running the program.
I asked on October 28 – the day the program was announced and before it was started. It began on November 1.
Lisa Barge, agriculture marketing and development manager for AAEDC emailed her answer on November 2.
She wrote, “I am not aware nor have i heard of a requirement to test venison for lead. I checked with Montgomery County as they are leaders in the state with their venison program. Their response is below. I do have a call into DNR as well and will get back to you if I find any new information on this.
The State of Maryland DHMH licenses deer meat processing facilities annually.
The processing of deer meat does not need USDA approval.
The State License requires the licensee be trained in detecting diseases (Chronic Wasting Disease) and other aliments in the deer carcasses (field dressed deer) that are dropped off at the processing facility.
We are not aware of the “lead-alternative ammunitions requirements for donations” although Montgomery County is a leader in deer harvested by bow hunters.”
According to that Environmental Health News article, “There is no safe level of lead in the blood. In 2008, a study in Wisconsin calculated whether the average level of lead detected in donated meat would influence the blood lead levels of children who consume it. They estimated that blood lead levels would rise above 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL) in 80 percent of children who ate two meals of the contaminated meat per month. That level of lead in the blood is associated with a loss of 7 IQ points in children. Even levels below 5 ug/dL put children at risk for decreased cognitive performance and behavioral problems.
For pregnant women, a blood lead level of 10 ug/dL has been estimated to nearly quadruple the odds of miscarriage, and to increase the likelihood of preeclampsia, a life-threatening high blood pressure condition, by 16 percent.”
This venison bounty program was likely started with good intentions, but it’s lacking thorough oversight and concern for the health and well-being of those most in need in Anne Arundel County. It’s been three days since it began and it could be stopped or warnings could be issued on the meat – either way the buck starts and stops with Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman.
What ammunition a hunter uses is the decision of the hunter, as is what they choose to feed their family. But when Anne Arundel County is using public funds to pay for meat that isn’t screened for lead and isn’t warning people they could be exposed to lead through consuming it – that’s worthy of questioning in my opinion.
Update – WNAV’s Julie Reiter asked Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman about this question. His response follows.
More information about this topic here –
Donna L. Cole is an Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists award-winning reporter. She works for WNAV News in Annapolis.