Wisconsin officials said Friday that they, too, will test ground venison destined for food shelves for possible lead contamination.

Earlier this week, a physician reported finding lead in venison that hunters had donated to North Dakota food shelves.

Most of the 414,000 pounds of venison donated by hunters to Wisconsin food shelves has been distributed and likely consumed.

Minnesota officials, meanwhile, will test samples of venison at local food shelves next week. "While we are not aware of complaints or reports of illness tied to lead in Minnesota venison, we are erring on the side of caution," Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said Friday.

Officials advised the 97 Minnesota food shelves that received nearly 78,000 pounds of venison to halt further distribution. But officials decided against recommending that consumers not eat donated venison already in hand, as a state official had said Thursday.

"We don't have enough information to say, yes, it is a risk, or no it isn't a risk ... so we're leaving it up to people to make the decision,'' said Mike Schommer of the Agriculture Department.

"People are exposed to very low levels of lead and other heavy metals in a number of ways in daily life," said Daniel Symonik, supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Health lead poisoning prevention program. "The question we need to investigate is whether the venison contains lead, and if it does, whether it's at a level that requires intervention."

Paul Holten of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said state officials discussed the North Dakota situation and decided to test venison that has yet to be sent to food shelves. But he said state health officials have concerns about the testing methods used by the North Dakota physician.

"From all the research they have conducted with human health risks and lead consumption, this pathway of lead exposure has never come up,'' Holten said. "It's never been a concern.''

Doug Smith • 612-673-7667