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Pantries got lots of venison

April 6, 2002 Associated Press by Robert Imrie
The top county in Wisconsin for donating white-tailed deer meat to help feed needy families last fall was Dane County.

It's unknown if any of the donated deer had chronic wasting disease, but spokeswomen for two groups that distributed thousands of pounds of donated venison said Friday they have not been flooded with questions about the meat, which likely already has been eaten.

Donna Evans, finance director for Southwest Community Action Program, which supplies four food pantries, including one Dodgeville, said the group gave away the last of 8,000 pounds of donated venison more than a month ago.

"I think they all used it and enjoyed it and they are all still walking," she said. "I still have people coming in and asking for it."

Dodgeville is just 20 miles from Mount Horeb. That's where the first three deer which tested positive for chronic wasting disease were found. On Friday, two more deer tested positive, the state said. They were shot in the town of Vermont, about two miles from where the first three were found.

The state Department of Natural Resources ordered the killing of 500 deer in a 415-square-mile-area of Dane and Iowa counties near Mount Horeb to test the deer to find out how far the disease has spread into the herd.

There is no evidence the disease can be passed to humans by eating meat of an infected animal but no one can say with "absolute certainty" that chronic wasting disease will not cause human disease, said state epidemiologist Jim Kazmierczak.

A panel of World Health Organization experts has recommended not eating any part of a deer that showed signs of the illness. Chronic wasting disease attacks the brains of infected deer and elk, causing the animals to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions and die.

According to the DNR, hunters donated 3,909 white-tailed deer for food pantries last fall, producing nearly 176,000 pounds of venison.

Dane County hunters led the state with 314 donated deer, followed by Sauk County with 297 and Columbia County with 203.

Greta Hansen, executive director of Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, said the agency distributed about 8,000 pounds of venison to about 20 food pantries in Dane, Jefferson and Waukesha counties.

"I have not had any questions specifically about the venison," she said. "We have talked internally about following this matter closely. No one has gotten sick, thankfully."

Because people who visit food pantries are hungry, Hansen expected all the meat has been eaten.

But anyone who hasn't and has questions about its safety should discard it, she said.

It's too soon to say whether the deer donation program is in jeopardy now that the state knows diseased deer are in the herd, Evans and Hansen said.

"It is a wait and see kind of thing," Evans said. "I don't know what will happen to deer hunting as we know it if we can't eat the deer."

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