Some Minnesota legislators want to make it easier for hunters to donate venison -- deer meat -- to food shelves.
A bill that would loosen rules on donated venison got a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Since the state began to regulate donated venison, the amount donated to food shelves has plunged over the past few years from 78,500 pounds in 2007 to about 20,000 pounds in 2010.
Some Republicans blame a state rule that requires all donated venison to be X-rayed to ensure it's not contaminated with lead from bullet fragments.
Bill Ingebrigtsen authored the bill that would limit the state's control of the venison donation program. At a hearing in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources committee Tuesday, Ingebrigtsen said meat processors are not participating in the program because of all the rules.
"My food shelf person got a hold of me and said, 'You guys really messed up this program, and we're really without a lot of venison opportunity here,' " Ingebrigtsen said.
Reducing regulations will mean more venison for hungry Minnesotans, say supporters of the bill. Venison makes up a small fraction of the food distributed by Minnesota's 300 food shelves each year.
The committee did not vote on the bill, but decided to include in a larger bill that has not yet received a vote.
Experts from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture testified against the bill. They cited a test that found lead in around a quarter of venison samples before the X-ray requirement.
Greta Gauthier, the department's director of governmental relations, said the meat needs to be checked.
"Hunter-harvested, donated venison is a great source of protein for people coming into food shelves who really need food," Gauthier said. "We just want to make sure that food is safe."