"Garage guy" wild game processors can rest a little easier.

The Minnesota Legislature partially overturned a 2020 requirement that they get licensed, which would entail costly upgrades for many of the processers who operate out of their garages, sheds or other outbuildings. It was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz on May 25.

Some processers would still have to get licensed by the state, mainly those making more than $20,000 a year from butchering wild game or who process more than 200 deer a year.

Minnesota had not yet started enforcing the requirement, but had been contacting processors to educate them about the new law and were planning to enforce it beginning this fall.

The meat locker industry had sought mandatory licensure for solo practitioners, saying solo butchers should receive the same oversight that lockers do. However, the solo operators said they didn't do anything to the meat that a hunter wouldn't do, and that they were simply helping hunters who couldn't or didn't want to cut up the meat themselves.

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The exemptions to the licensing law drew mixed reactions.

Douglas County Commissioner Jerry Rapp, who persuaded Minnesota Rural Counties to lobby to overturn the licensing requirement, said he doesn't think the processors should face any regulations.

"We've butchered our own deer as long as I can remember and I don't know anybody who's died of venison," he said. "They're fixing something that wasn't broken. They got their fingers in the pie and now we have to compromise. That's what we're doing, we're compromising."

Including a specific dollar amount will cause problems in future years because of inflation, he said. And it could jeopardize an important service that the solo wild game processors provide to hunters, especially those who aren't local or those who have disabilities.

"In this respect we lost, because they put restrictions and regulation on something that didn't need to be regulated," Rapp said.

However, Brian Schatz, president of the Minnesota Association of Meat Processors, said his organization wanted solo practitioners to get licensed to protect food safety.

He feels that 200 deer is a lot of meat that isn't getting inspected. And licensing would have allowed the small processers to expand the services they offer to hunters.

"There's a need for processers," he said. "I'm not against that. ... I look at it more as a positive for these guys to be able to do other things, not a negative like they're being punished."

While many lockers have quit processing wild game, he thinks that 90 percent of those lockers will start again soon.

These are the provisions that small processors will have to meet to be exempt from licensing:

  • They can't own a processing operation that does have to be licensed.
  • They can only handle raw products by cutting, grinding, and packaging, and can't do further preparation, like sausage making.
  • They can't add any ingredients to the wild game or fowl meat.
  • The wild game or fowl products are not donated or sold.
  • All wild game or fowl products are packaged and labeled as "Not for Sale."
  • They can't make more than $20,000 year or process more than 200 deer in a year.
  • If they process a white-tail deer taken in a zone known to have chronic wasting disease, they have to dispose of the carcass in a manner approved by the DNR.