Yesterday afternoon the Food Standards Agency (FSA) published revised guidance on eating game shot with lead.
It starts: ‘The Food Standards Agency is advising people that eating lead-shot game on a frequent basis can expose them to potentially harmful levels of lead. The FSA’s advice is that frequent consumers of lead-shot game should eat less of this type of meat.‘
This seems very sensible to me.
There are three main ‘shooting’ organisations involved with commenting on this issue and the issue of lead gunshot and wildlife poisoning: BASC, GWCT and the utterly horrendous Countryside Alliance.
Before we move on to their views and responses let me just say that I am proud of the part played by the RSPB (when I worked for them and subsequently) on the lead issue. The RSPB has studied the subject, adapted to the science, carried out science and informed decision-makers and the public about the facts of the matter. For example, several years ago, when I was still an RSPB employee, the RSPB, after field trials, switched to using copper bullets for deer culling on its land, partly because much of the venison from that deer culling entered the human food chain. Here are some references to that RSPB work here, here, here).
Here is something I wrote in my RSPB blog just over 3 years ago:
Now there aren’t lots of bullets and shotgun pellets flying around on RSPB nature reserves but we do some predator control (notably of foxes on some sites) and we do cull deer at a number of our nature reserves in order to protect the habitat from overgrazing. Some of those deer carcasses are sold into the human foodchain. Now although the Food Standards Agency assures us that there is little evidence that lead poisoning from consuming shot game is an issue in the UK, we feel that moving to non-toxic ammunition is a responsible and precautionary move for the good of people and wildlife – there are perfectly good non-lead alternatives to most ammunition which we have tested or are testing on our sites. So, from this autumn, we are moving towards non-toxic ammunition being used on those RSPB sites where ammunition is used at all.
We are grateful to a number of representative shooting bodies with whom we have had detailed and frequent discussions on this subject over the last 14 months or so. We know that others are thinking hard about this issue too.
The FSA has now caught up with where the RSPB was several years ago and I am proud that the RSPB did lead the way to some extent.
The WWT has played an even bigger role, particularly since Dr Debbie Pain, who is a world expert on lead and wildlife, moved from the RSPB to become WWT’s Conservation Director. WWT has done great research and led (not lead) the debate. Some of the work done by WWT should have been done, funded and promulgated by the shooting community but in their absence we all owe WWT a big thank you for their role in elucidating human health and wildlife health aspects of use of lead ammunition. Debbie, in particular has received lots of abuse and criticism from the shooting community about her role in this debate – abuse which has been completely unwarranted and disgraceful in my opinion. WWT’s many excellent staff have carried out work of the highest standard and for public good. Their Chief Executive, Martin Spray, is to be congratulated on the role that his organisation has played and will continue to play in this subject.
You’ll notice that in my blog of just over three years ago I wrote that ‘we’ (the RSPB) had been talking to shooting people about this matter for more than 14 months – that takes us back to summer 2008. It takes us back to this Conference on the subject of lead which was held in Boise, Idaho. You can read the papers here and see that there was enough in that conference to raise alarm bells. Representatives from the UK shooting community were present at that conference and, I believe, were just as shocked by the evidence for projectile fragmentation, high lead levels and wildlife impacts as were RSPB staff who attended. And yet, since that time, my feeling is that the shooting community’s leaders, rather than leading, have stuck their heads in the sand (or somewhere else anatomically as dark) and done nothing. The shooting community has been misled rather than led.
Even last week the Countryside Alliance was calling RSPB, WWT (and me) scare mongerers for carrying out scientific research, publishing it and then disseminating its findings. Shame on them! I say again, shame on them! The FSA advice mentioned above would never have emerged from the shooting community who are ultimately responsible for the health impacts warned against.
BASC, of whom I would have expected much better in the past, issued this statement. It is mealy-mouthed and insipid. It doesn’t say that anyone should take notice of this updated advice, instead it says that those people for which the advice is not relevant should not take notice of it! Big deal! BASC are further reprehensible for having carried out a survey of their members, probably not a ‘perfect’ survey (but what is?), of game consumption. BASC refuse to make the results of this survey public even though it must contain important information on the range of game ingestion amounts of that very community most likely to be affected by high lead intakes from game.
The Countryside Alliance which is the prime mover behind the ‘Game to Eat‘ campaign has known about the growing evidence of some potential health impacts of high game intake for years. They have pressed on regardless and bad-mouthed those who have researched the subject thoroughly. Whatever good things the CA might do, this episode has been a shameful one in my opinion. They claim to be the voice of the countryside (they don’t speak for me) and yet they have ignored and spoken against a health risk which will affect their supporters more than their enemies. If I were a gamekeeper with a young family I would be wondering what the CA and BASC had been up to for the last few years. Human health is too important an issue for single-issue politics – such as the ‘future’ of shooting. BASC has been supine but CA has actively muddied the waters. Shame on the Countryside Alliance too!
GWCT has not said much about the issue – it should have done. It parades its own opinion of its scientific excellence at every opportunity and yet has remained publicly quiet on this matter. Go to the GWCT website and put ‘lead’ into the search engine and find out what you get – not much. There are enough clever people in GWCT who understood the science who should have said ‘Hang on guys – there is a real issue here’ – but it appears that they didn’t. In former days I think they would have done. Sins of omission rather than sins of commission, but sins all the same. Shame on you too GWCT!