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Food bank scraps venison donations

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank will not accept venison donations this year because of concerns over chronic wasting disease.

The donations came from Hunters Sharing the Harvest and amounted to 20,000 pounds of meat last year. The program “coordinates the processing and distribution of donated wild game from hunters and municipal herd reduction sources to hungry people throughout Pennsylvania.”

Joe Arthur, executive director, said venison is only a small amount of the protein the Food Bank distributes.

The food bank is a hub for distributing food products to more than 1,000 local agencies in 27 counties in central Pennsylvania, including Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, Centre and Clearfield counties. Cambria County is served by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

“We’ve had extra stock of meat through the USDA trade mitigation program,” he said. “We are receiving an abundance of meat products through that, so we’re well-supplied for this season,” adding that the Food Bank was still grateful to enjoy long-term relationships with the processors and butchers who have made venison donations possible.

The Food Bank made the decision last week based on information provided through various awareness and educational efforts by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Arthur explained that the “trigger” was seeing the expansion of the three disease management areas for CWD in 2019, which now covers area in over half of the 27 counties to which the organization supplies food.

Arthur explained that the decision was based on concerns over venison safety.

“It is our understanding that enhancements are under discussion,” he said, “but until they are made and adopted consistently, we felt the risk was too high to accept venison donations this year.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has issued recommendations to hunters and processors who participate in Hunters Sharing the Harvest on its website. This information includes voluntary best practices on handling, processing and reporting potential sightings of infected animals.

The department, as a courtesy, can inspect processing facilities in the state, but the jurisdiction to certify the actual meat processing falls to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Families and hunters who donate their harvest to a charitable food system are exempt from food safety laws.

Chronic wasting disease, known as a prion disease, is a fatal neurological disease that can affect deer, elk, moose and caribou.

Russell Redding, Pennsylvania agriculture secretary, reiterated that the disease has no scientifically-proven link between humans and the animals affected.

“At this time, current published scientific studies support the hypothesis that there is a strong species barrier protecting humans from CWD,” he said. “To date, there have not been any documented cases of humans being infected with CWD.”

In 1997, the World Health Organization recommended “keeping the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.”

Arthur said that the organization will re-evaluate its decision in 2020.

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