Venison donations may come with a side of lead

Commentary by Joan O’Brien
NH Bulletin (republished by Seacoast Online)
November 6, 2023

It’s deer hunting season, and once again the New Hampshire Food Bank is promoting its “Hunt for the Hungry” program, encouraging hunters to donate deer meat (venison) to the food bank.

It’s a feel-good program that gets a lot of positive press. What’s not mentioned in the promotion is the very real danger that donated venison could contain lead.

It’s a real possibility, one that Scott Mason, executive director of New Hampshire Fish and Game, touched on at the September New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission meeting. Describing a recent ballistics presentation, he said, “… As the bullet travels through the target it is shedding lead … now you have lead in your meat.”

Lead bullets fragment into hundreds of tiny pieces upon impact. Studies show that fragments too small to detect by sight, touch, or chewing can be present in the flesh of deer shot with lead ammunition.

Hunters are accustomed to discarding meat near the wound site, but lead fragments have been shown to travel up to 18 inches from the point of impact.

This X-ray image above shows more than 450 lead fragments spread through the neck of a deer shot with a lead rifle bullet. (Courtesy of the National Park Service)

Recommendations for safe blood lead levels have been moved lower and lower over the years as researchers learn more about the effects of lead. Today we know that no amount of lead exposure is safe. “Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect learning, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement,” according to the CDC.

While the Hunt for the Hungry program may be well intentioned, venison donations could be putting a vulnerable population at risk.

Nancy Mellitt, director of development at the NH Food Bank, says the issue of lead in venison donations has never come up. “Any meat donated to the food bank is processed by a USDA butcher. … They are experts in that field,” she said.

Beyond the dinner plate, the use of lead ammunition also harms wildlife and the environment. Birds of prey, foxes, and other scavenging animals get lead poisoning from eating contaminated carcasses and “gut piles” left behind by hunters.

Eagles are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead, because their acidic stomachs quickly break down and absorb any ingested lead. A piece of lead the size of a grain of rice is enough to kill an eagle. Lead poisoning can also make animals lethargic and disoriented so that they are at greater risk of fatal accidents.

Ducks, geese, and swans are also highly susceptible to lead poisoning because they naturally consume small rocks (“grit”) to help them grind food in their gizzards. Lead fragments from spent bullets or fishing tackle are easily mistaken for suitable grit.

In 1991, the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting was banned nationwide. The impact of lead on waterfowl was recognized more than a century earlier, but federal efforts to curb the use of lead ammunition for hunting have a long history of opposition.

The potential for lead contamination in donated venison is not unique to New Hampshire. Almost all states have some sort of game meat donation program. Nationwide, hunters donate thousands of pounds of meat to the needy, yet the risk of lead exposure is largely unaddressed. Few states do more than publish best practices for minimizing lead exposure and warnings that pregnant women and small children are most at risk.

According to Martin Feehan at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, “The issue of lead is less of a concern in Massachusetts when it comes to our venison donation program, predominantly because Massachusetts doesn’t have rifle hunting.” Deer hunters in that state either hunt with a bow or use shotguns, which have a slower projectile speed, and thus the bullet, or “slug,” generally stays intact. The majority of deer hunted in Massachusetts are taken by bow hunters, Feehan said.

This author does not recommend bow hunting. While it may eliminate the dangers of lead ammunition, it can mean a long, slow death for the animal. Bow hunters deliberately wait 30 to 60 minutes, and sometimes up to 6 to 12 hours (if the shot was poorly placed), to give the animal time to die.

In states where rifle hunting is allowed, the threat of lead contamination could be eliminated if hunters used non-lead ammunition. Alternatives do exist, including bullets made from copper, and have been shown to be just as effective. (Hunters can learn about these alternatives from organizations such as the North American Non-Lead Partnership.)

New Hampshire Fish and Game could aid the transition to non-lead ammunition by offering hunters incentives to make the switch.

X-raying donated venison to check for lead has been tried in some states, and Minnesota continues the practice. It is an added expense that also highlights the waste that results from hunting with lead ammunition. In the decade before 2021, Minnesota’s lead inspectors rejected 6,700 pounds of deer meat, the equivalent of approximately 168 deer being thrown away.

Another solution to the problems caused by lead ammunition would be not to hunt. Hunting for meat may be better than purchasing the products of industrial animal agriculture, a cruel and environmentally damaging system, but not eating animals at all is even better. It’s possible to get all the nutrition we need without eating meat (a fact easily backed up by Googling “How do vegans get their protein?”).

The protein needs of the NH Food Bank could be met with plant sources, such as beans, chickpeas, nuts, and even the new plant-based meat substitutes. In addition to being healthy and lead free, many plant-based staples can be stored on the shelf almost indefinitely, making them a practical and efficient way to feed the hungry.


Letter: World day for octopuses

Letter to the Editor
Concord Monitor
October 4, 2023

Wolrd Day for Octopuses

World Octopus Day is Sunday, October 8. It is a day to celebrate these amazing animals, and we should do that by pledging not to eat them and avoiding restaurants serving them. If you become aware of a restaurant with octopus on the menu, consider writing a brief email or letter telling them why you will not patronize their restaurant. Octopuses are considered the smartest of all the invertebrates. Because they have no bones, they can squeeze through openings as small as a coin. Octopuses have been recorded escaping captivity and are called the Houdini of the sea. They have nine brains, one in their head and one in each of their eight tentacles. They have three hearts and blue blood.

Life is becoming more difficult for all sea animals because of climate change and overfishing. Octopus populations in the wild are decreasing. So, Spain plans to open the first farm to raise octopuses for the food industry. Being solitary animals, they will suffer greatly in the crowded conditions of a farm. The slaughtering method that would be used is extremely cruel. They will be fed other sea animals, decreasing those already depleted. Aqua farms are notorious polluters. If you search online, you will find more information and a source to sign a petition to stop this octopus farm. Watch ‘My Octopus Teacher’ on Netflix for some inspiration. After viewing, you will want to protect octopuses rather than harm them.


Letter: Rather than buy, adopt your next family dog

Letter to the Editor
Union Leader
May 26, 2023


A puppy store chain recently opened a location in Manchester and, unfortunately, business has been brisk. Inside the store, rows of stark aquarium-style cages contain puppies of every “must have” breed commercialized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Cage labels indicate that the puppies come from Missouri, Iowa, and other parts of the Midwest. At about eight weeks old, they are put on a truck and driven halfway across the country to New Hampshire, where — unlike our neighbors New York and Maine — there is no law that prevents treating puppies like merchandise.

Eager puppy store customers take out their credit cards or sign up for 100% financing for these dogs, which cost between $3,000 and $6,000. Meanwhile, across town at the Manchester Animal Shelter — and at humane societies around the state — lovable animals, many who are good with children, wait for homes.

Please stop and think before taking the kids to the pet store to buy your next family dog, thereby perpetuating the demand to “manufacture” yet another batch of purebred puppies at some faraway breeding operation.

Instead, why not make a family project out of visiting animal shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries in search of the “perfect” dog? Those who adopt will tell you that nothing is more rewarding and rescuing a homeless animal is a great lesson for the kids.


Letter: Slaughtering animals makes no sense at all

Reader Opinion
The Keene Sentinel
January 10, 2023

Slaughtering animals makes no sense at all

It took me several days to read the recent article (“It doesn’t get any easier,” Dec. 31, from the Valley News) on the farm-animal-slaughtering business in the Upper Valley… not because of a lack of time or interest, but because of the overwhelming sadness of this situation for everyone involved, especially the innocent animals who lose their lives to satisfy the human palate.

There’s no need to cite statistics or to verify the research. We all understand that animal agriculture contributes greatly to the crisis of climate change; we all recognize that we could eliminate the scourge of global food insecurity if we raised grain to feed to people, instead of feeding it to the animals who end up on our plates; we all feel, in our pockets, the enormous costs to the health care system of treating diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers that are related to the consumption of animal products. And then there are the moral and ethical issues…

Mr. Havill, the farmer in the article, said that he cannot watch the killing of the animals he has raised; Mr. Miller, the, “itinerant slaughterer,” said that after 40 years his work still weighs heavily on him and doesn’t get any easier. So why do they do it? Why do people continue to raise and kill animals for food, when there are so many peaceful, tranquil, healthy, affordable and delicious alternatives? It makes no sense at all.


Letter: Using pandemic federal money for hatcheries is a misuse of funds

Letter to the Editor
The Conway Daily Sun
May 13, 2022 

Using pandemic federal money for hatcheries is a misuse of funds

New Hampshire Fish and Game has a fish hatchery problem. It is being sued by the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy organization, for polluting the Merrymeeting River with wastewater from its Powder Mill Fish Hatchery. According to Fish and Game, they cannot keep pollutant levels within EPA limits because the hatcheries, where staff raise millions of fish each year for “put and take” fishing, are old and in disrepair.

Despite taking in millions in fishing license revenue, which is matched by millions from the federal Sport Fishing Restoration Act of 1950, Fish and Game has somehow not managed to maintain and upgrade the hatcheries appropriately.

Recently, Fish and Game saw an opportunity to receive money for its polluting hatcheries in N.H.’s share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. First, the department asked for and received $1 million in federal funds for a study to rebuild Powder Mill Hatchery. Then last month, they were back, asking for and receiving $55 million more to rebuild two other of the six state hatcheries.

Those in power think the unnatural process of farm-raised fishing is so important to New Hampshire that it warrants spending a huge chunk of pandemic recovery funding on it.

We each have an executive councilor who represents us and approved this expenditure. Express your outrage that N.H. fish hatcheries are getting money that should be used for pandemic relief. The hatcheries should be downsized or closed if license sales can’t pay for them.


Letter: Stop animal research

Letter in the Concord Monitor
February 23, 2022

Letter: Stop animal research

A month ago, a truck transporting a hundred macaque monkeys from NY to a quarantine facility in Florida was involved in a traffic accident. The monkeys, packed in wooden boxes, were thrown from the truck. Three escaped. Once found, the three were shot and killed by the police. How the other monkeys fared in the accident was not reported. The monkeys are from the island nation of Mauritius. They were going to a quarantine facility to pre-check for any diseases or viruses they might be carrying before being used for research. The officials who purchased the macaques have not released information about the monkeys that survived the accident. A passerby stopped at the accident out of concern. She looked in one of the boxes, later became ill, and was awaiting test results for monkey-borne diseases.

Have we learned nothing from COVID-19 and other animal-borne diseases that have jumped to humans, such as we also witnessed with Ebola? There are alternatives to using animals in research that are much safer and would cost the taxpayer less money. Imagine how much money it costs to purchase a hundred monkeys, fly them to the U.S. and then house and quarantine them for several months before possibly using them for research. It’s time to stop exploiting, confining, and in most cases torturing animals for research. We need to transition to only non-animal research. If we leave the animals alone, they will leave us alone.


My Turn: Taking stock of NH’s fish hatcheries

Op-Ed in The Concord Monitor
December 26, 2021

My Turn: Taking stock of NH’s fish hatcheries

Every year, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department raises more than a million fish in concrete tanks and ponds at six fish hatcheries they operate around the state.

Once the fish reach desired size, they are loaded into trucks and driven all over New Hampshire to be deposited into lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. Depending on where a particular water body is located and how easy it is to reach, fish may be pumped in through a tube attached to the tanker truck, hand-carried in nets or buckets, or even flown in by helicopter in some cases.

Fish stocking has been going on in New Hampshire in some form for more than a century. For those who grew up fishing here, the state’s annual stocking routine may seem normal. But for others, the idea of driving around putting fish into lakes and ponds (and this is not unique to New Hampshire) sounds crazy. The obvious question is, why is this necessary? Aren’t there already fish in the lakes, ponds and rivers?

The answer, according to NH Fish and Game Executive Director Scott Mason, is that the mineral makeup of New Hampshire’s water is such that it cannot support populations of fish big enough or plentiful enough to satisfy anglers.

But their solution, raising fish in hatcheries and then trucking them around to favorite fishing spots, is not without problems, and water pollution at the hatcheries is one of them.

When mass-producing animals in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), whether it’s pigs, chickens or in this case, fish, an inevitable side effect is an accumulation of animal waste. Dealing with this waste has been a thorn in the side of the NH Fish and Game for some time.

At the Powder Mill Fish Hatchery in New Durham, wastewater from the operation is discharged directly into the Merrymeeting River, and for years NH Fish and Game exceeded the pollutant levels allowed under its EPA permit. This contributed to harmful cyanobacteria blooms in the river and also landed NH Fish and Game in court.

Seeing an opportunity in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, NH Fish and Game recently asked for and was granted $1,000,000 from the recovery fund to address the water pollution problems at the fish hatcheries. The grant will be put toward the planning stages of building a wastewater treatment facility at the Powder Mill Fish Hatchery.

In other words, NH Fish and Game will use federal ARPA funds, which are intended to help states recover economically from the pandemic and build more resilient infrastructures, to solve its pollution problem— a problem that NH Fish and Game is wholly responsible for and should pay for out of its own budget.

There are also technical reasons to disqualify the project. While ARPA funds may indeed be used for “necessary investments in projects that improve wastewater and stormwater infrastructure,” the eligibility requirements, which are the same as for the existing Clean Water State Revolving Fund, state that assistance is available for projects to control “non-point sources” of pollution, whereas the fish hatcheries are “point-source” polluters.

As it is the mission of our organization to help animals, what troubles us most about the grant is not the misuse of funds but that it signifies a long-term commitment to the fish hatcheries and stocking program.

“Everyone understands that these definitely need major investments,” Governor Sununu told the Executive Council before they voted to approve the ARPA grant.

Fish stocking concerns us because the practice interferes with nature and raises animal welfare concerns.

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that fish not only experience pain but are also far more sophisticated creatures than once understood. Yet at the hatcheries, fish are crowded into barren tanks with nothing to do but swim in circles.

Once released into water bodies, hatchery fish may be ill-equipped to survive or alternatively may out-compete native fish for food. They may also bring with them diseases and/or parasites that fish raised in crowded conditions commonly endure.

At a time when the public is learning there’s a lot more going on in the minds of fish than we might have realized (consider the popularity of documentaries like My Octopus Teacher and Seaspiracy) New Hampshire is planning a future where fish continue to be treated as expendable objects.

Instead of investing even more money in the fish hatcheries, NH Fish and Game should close them down and redirect the resources toward better managing the state’s water bodies to support native fish.

NH Fish and Game is already doing some of this work and could do more if the bulk of the inland fisheries budget weren’t going toward stocking. Where water bodies have been restored by removing dams to allow streams to run freely, for example, native fish populations have rebounded.

And in contrast to the merry-go-round of stocking, restoration projects are long-term, self-sustaining improvements that benefit not only native fish but also entire aquatic ecosystems.

(Joan O’Brien is a board member for New Hampshire Animal Rights League.)


Bull Riding Doesn’t Belong in NH, or Anywhere

Op-Ed in Union Leader
Oct 15, 2021

For those who care about animals and want to protect them from mistreatment, a silver lining of the pandemic was that it kept the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) tour away from Manchester, NH for more than a year. Alas, the tour is returning for two shows at the SNHU Arena in October.

The New Hampshire Animal Rights League opposes bull riding and any other activity where animals are made to perform for our entertainment. Although the PBR refers to the bulls as “animal athletes” and claims that they were born to buck, the bulls, unlike their human riders, do not consent to be there.

Being a PBR bull means being hauled around the country in a trailer, prodded into stalls and chutes, and on performance nights subjected to “a rock concert environment, complete with pulsating music, and explosive pyrotechnics,” as promoters describe it.

In the arena, there are several observable indicators that the bulls experience fear and distress. These include increased “eye white,” which results when the upper eyelid lifts, as well as “diarrhea butt,” an excrement-stained backside.

On event night, life for the bulls goes from just unnatural to downright dangerous. Just before they are let loose into the arena, the flank strap around their mid-section is yanked tight, which aggravates them into bucking harder and over-extending their hind legs as they fight to throw off the rider.

Although portrayed as “beasts” who are impervious to pain, bulls are not machines and often get hurt right along with the riders. Veterinarian and former rodeo performer Peggy Larson explains, “Bucking straps and spurs can cause the bull to buck beyond his normal capacity, and his legs or back may thus be broken.”

The PBR claims to care about the wellbeing of the animals, and yet they subject them to risk of injury over and over again. “In the case of a severe injury, that can’t be repaired through surgery, a bull would be humanely euthanized,” their web site states.

When profitable bulls are worn out or injured so severely that they can no longer perform, they may be retired to life as sperm donors. This allows the industry to continue exploiting the bulls for profit by selling their offspring, semen, or even frozen embryos created in vitro with their sperm. (Google “bucking bull semen and embryos” for an eye-opening look into the mindset of those who treat animals as commodities.)

Remarkably, despite the terrible risk to both the rider and animal, bull riding is marketed as family entertainment. These events may seem like harmless fun, but consider the message they send to both children and adults: it’s okay to dominate and control animals, to force them to perform for our entertainment, and to give little thought to their needs or imagine how they might be suffering.

A number of cities across the country have passed ordinances preventing the use of devices that force bulls and other rodeo animals to perform, including spurs and the flank strap. It is no accident that where these implements are prohibited, bull riding and rodeos disappear.

If you are interested in keeping bull riding out of New Hampshire, please reach out to the NH Animal Rights League.

You can join the NH Animal Rights League outside the SNHU Arena on Friday, Oct, 15 from 6:00 to 7:30PM for a peaceful demonstration against bull riding.

My Turn: It’s not all mint juleps and fancy hats

Op-Ed in Concord Monitor
May 5, 2021

It’s not all mint juleps and fancy hats

When I was a kid, my favorite movie was “Phar Lap,” based on the true story of an Australian racehorse. I loved that movie and that horse. It was tragic and made me cry in heartbreak. A kind boy trains a mistreated horse, and then he wins and wins and wins horse races.

As moving and memorable as that movie was, it never made me particularly curious about the realities of horse racing. I thought jockeys were interesting, and the horses were extraordinary specimens of beauty, strength and agility. I would wonder about the treatment of the horses from time to time, but that was it.

Fast forward to today. Working with the NH Animal Rights League, I volunteered to research the reality of horse racing because of last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. And here are the facts.

According to The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, nearly 10 horses died every week at American racetracks in 2018. This data is just the ones dying at the tracks. According to the organization Horseracing Wrongs, over 1,000 racehorses died on-site in 2019. That is about 20 a week and does not count deaths from other sites related to horse racing (private training facilities, euthanized on farms, the thousands of “retired” ones sold to slaughter).

Since 2010, state racing officials have tallied more than 1,400 thoroughbred deaths in Pennsylvania alone. That is one state (and the state industry is propped up by $3 billion in government subsidies.)

Although the use of illegal performance-enhancing and pain masking drugs is rampant in horse racing, even if a horse is drug-free, the strain of a 1,200-pound animal storming down the track at 40 mph exerts incredible stress on the horse’s comparatively fragile legs.

Once-great horses can end up in the lowest tier races. “It’s all about the money. You have wealthy owners that get a horse, it earns $1 million, then it’s dumped in a claiming race for a low-end trainer to run the snot out of the horse,” said Lee Midkiff, the part-owner of a Kentucky Derby winner. “Horses are discarded quickly.” (“Betting on Horses Lives,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/25)

And it seems horse racing cannot be reformed. Look at the example of Santa Anita in California. They hit the news in 2019 because of the near-weekly deaths of horses at one venue – 49 died between July 2018 and June 2019.

Yet despite the deaths and an extensive investigation, the District Attorney’s task force did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct relating to the equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park. So, business as usual. And that is the problem. Reforming an inherently cruel industry is impossible. Deaths are still happening at Santa Anita as recently as less than a month ago.

Ending horse racing is within our power. Look to greyhound racing for proof of that. Only three states now have greyhound tracks. After a long awareness campaign and the changing of laws by animal rights activists, we have realized that racing dogs for monetary profit is not okay, and the same is true of horses.

Horses have a long history of working for us. They helped plow our fields, pulled our wagons, went to war with us, and even died on our battlefields. Isn’t it time we do something for them?

You can educate yourself and the people in your life. Romanticizing the Kentucky Derby and horseracing is harder to do when you know the facts.

Don’t support the horse racing industry, even indirectly. Racetracks such as Santa Anita Park host many events, making them money. Do not attend any events at racetracks.

Support organizations helping horses and working to end horse racing ( is a great resource), like Live and Let Live Farm in Chichester.

At Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, a horse with the horrible name of “Who Took the Money” was so upset pre-race she flipped to the ground, her rider falling off. Then she ran and desperately tried to escape the track. But there was nowhere to go, and it was heartbreaking to watch. This equine youngster did not sign up for this cruel life. She was scheduled to run in the fifth race but was “scratched” because of this incident.

The trainer of the horse who won the main event at Churchill Downs this year is Bob Baffert, who has over 30 drug violations through the years. Baffert should not be allowed near a racetrack after years of drugging horses, but instead, he is a hall of famer for having won seven Kentucky Derbies.

You will hear none of this from the mainstream media. Just a glamorization of silly-hatted folks drinking mint juleps.

(Emily Murphy is a board member of the NH Animal Rights League.)

Letter to the Editor: Here’s hoping pandemic kills the fur business

Letter to the Editor
Union Leader
December 2, 2020

Here’s hoping pandemic kills off the fur business

It has been a difficult year for businesses, but one business that should fail is the fur business. Noted for its cruelty, it is a business we can do without. It is certainly a business a fur-bearing animal can do without. Whether being intensively confined on a fur farm and anally electrocuted or caught in a body-gripping trap and bashed in the head until dead, the animals will rejoice at the end of these cruel industries if they could. Many of us will rejoice with them and for them.

Fur-free Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when animal rights activists take to the streets to protest fur will not happen in many areas this year. In NH, the protest that targets trapping has been canceled.

Trappers are an uncaring bunch of people. If you are on social media, you have probably seen the pictures; the smiling trappers squatting just out of reach of the bloody pawed frightened animal. What kind of person thinks this is something to be proud enough of that he would pose for a picture while a living and breathing animal is suffering behind him?

Please keep the animals who suffer and die for fur in your thoughts when you begin to shop. Many retailers have stopped selling fur. If we refuse to buy it, the rest will follow. Be kind, you will never regret it.