Scientists shoot down lead

Earlier this year we featured a blog by Mark Avery, blogger and author, and former Conservation Director of the RSPB in which he raised a number of issues for chefs to consider when sourcing and serving grouse. One of those was the dangers of lead shot – to birds, humans and the environment.

Now Oxford University has published a major report on lead shot, which is a collection of research and findings from a group of experts who gathered at the Oxford Symposium on Lead in 2014.  Studies were carried out by academics from the University and conservation groups that include the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the RSPB.

We’ve saved you the trouble of reading the entire report and been through it pulling out the key findings and drawing up some questions for you to ask your game suppliers.

100,000 wetland birds poisoned

In terms of headlines, the report concludes that there is an overwhelming body of evidence to say that lead used in hunting is a risk to both humans and wildlife and that lead shot should be phased out. The authors estimate that 100,000 wetland birds are poisoned by discarded lead ammunition each year and die.

The report in more detail:

The report says that the effects that lead has on human health and environmental pollution is well known and documented, and although there has been great progress made to remove exposure to lead, it is still legal to be used throughout the UK for shooting game meat and fowl.

One article in the report, looked at the link between IQ in children and lead; the result of these seven studies found a decrease in IQ with increased lead-blood level concentrations.  The conclusion of these studies suggested that regular consumption of game meat (approximately 40 – 70g per week) shot with lead ammunition is linked to a 1% reduction in IQ amongst children.

The limit set by the EU for lead concentrations in meat is 0.1mg/kg for non-game meat, yet studies have shown that lead levels in samples of moose killed with lead ammunition from Norway have levels of 5.6mg/kg.  Despite this, there have not been any maximum levels established for lead in game meat, leading to the Food Standards Agency recommending that those who frequently consume game meat (at least once a week) reduce their intake due to the risk that lead could have on health.

The report estimates that approximately 100,000 wetland birds are killed every year from exposure to lead.  There are four main pathways identified for wildlife being exposed to lead; direct ingestion of spent gunshot; ingestion by predators of lead gunshot in their prey; ingestion of soil and water contaminated with lead; and the absorption of lead by animals that have been shot with lead but have survived.

There have been restrictions on lead’s use in England and Wales since 1999, a ban on the use of lead over all wetlands, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and for the shooting of ducks and geese.  However, evidence suggests that there is very poor compliance, with 70% of ducks bought through game outlets in England have been shot illegally with lead ammunition.

The findings of the report show that there are a number of lead-free alternatives available in the UK including steel shot and lead-free rifle bullets and Tungsten Matrix and bismuth-tin cartridges are also made in the UK or available online.

Without laws to mandate the use of lead-free ammunition there is little incentive for the shooting industry to manufacture and distribute alternative ammunition.  The report recommends a road map to phase-in non-toxic ammunition for all hunting and shooting.

Firing back

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation described the report as “exaggerated and distorted” (BASC), and have said the risks can be managed in such a way so that a ban on lead ammunition is not necessary.

While we await any possible new regulation here are some questions for you ask your supplier when purchasing game:

  1. What type of ammunition has been used to shoot the game birds/ game meat that I purchase from you?
  2. What types of non-toxic ammunition are readily available to you/the estate, and how does this effect what type of game meat I can purchase from you?
  3. I only want to serve game that has been shot with non-toxic ammunition; how can I be guaranteed that this is what I am being supplied with?
  4. I purchase duck on a regular basis; according to the latest research, approximately 70% of duck is shot illegally with lead ammunition, how can I be sure that my duck has been shot in compliance with the law?
  5. Do the estates that you purchase game meat from have any measures in place to locate and safely remove all game that has been shot with lead ammunition, to ensure that it doesn’t lead to further lead contamination of the environment or other wildlife?
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