This is Lead Week on this blog.
40 grouse were purchased (in packs of two each to serve two people, with one grouse per person) from Iceland stores in September 2015. Grouse were purchased from three separate stores in England. All were in boxes indicating that they were supplied by ‘Kezie’ and all had a use by date of 31/10/16. Each individual grouse was in a sealed plastic bag and the cooking instructions were to boil the grouse in the bag, and then fry. All individual grouse were boiled in the bag, but birds were not subsequently fried.
Some grouse contained material (e.g. liver, heart and other tissues) in the body cavity and others had empty body cavities. After cooking and cooling, all obviously edible flesh was removed from the grouse manually. This was primarily muscle tissue from the breasts and legs, but also heart and liver tissue when these were present and intact (only a few samples), as recipes suggest that these can be eaten. All damaged or unidentifiable material from the body cavity, and anything other than hearts and livers, was discarded. All edible tissue was felt for the presence of shot as it was picked off the carcass, and any shot found were removed and stored separately. All edible material from each grouse was stored in separate sealed plastic bags.
Edible cooked material was weighed with samples from individual grouse ranging from 93-196g (mean of 151.3g). Shot was found in 35% (14 of 40) of samples.
Disposable gloves were worn during preparation and all surfaces thoroughly cleaned between preparing each sample.
Samples were then X-rayed to locate any lead shot not removed by initial examination of the cooked meat. Shot were found in an additional 17% of samples (7 of 40) which means that lead shot were found in 52% of samples after manual searching and X-raying. These shot were also removed before analysis.
The meat samples were then dried, milled/homogenised individually, and then sub-samples of meat (1g) were taken from each of the 40 samples. These sub-samples were digested in acid-cleaned pure-quartz test tubes using ultra-pure nitric acid and hydrogen peroxide and then analysed for their lead levels using ICP-OES (inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy). Blanks (ultra pure water) and certified reference material (CRM 8414 – bovine muscle) were analysed alongside the grouse for quality control/assurance purposes. All grouse samples generated lead data above the limit of detection for the instrument (equivalent to 0.047 mg/kg w.w.) and data obtained for the bovine muscle CRM demonstrated the accuracy of the technique (CRM certified lead level = 0.38 +/- 0.24; data obtained during experiments = 0.31 +/- 0.08 (n = 4)).
Lead is of course poisonous to wildlife too.
It is estimated that around 73,000 ducks die in the UK each winter of lead poisoning – they ingest particles of spent lead ammunition in mistake for food or grit.
Around 400 ducks will have died from lead poisoning in the UK today. And tomorrow the same will happen. And Wednesday. And Thursday too.
Please sign Rob Sheldon’s e-petition to ban the use of lead ammunition. This e-petition is supported by the WWT and the RSPB. Please make sure it is supported by you.
The lead levels in game meat are due to the fact that they have lead shot propelled into them to kill them. Other forms of ammunition are available and are used widely in other parts of the world for shooting game for food or fun.
The trouble with lead from the point of view of poison levels in meat, is that we know, and have known for 6-7 years at least, that small, really small, tiny, fragments of lead split off a lead pellet passing through the flesh of a Red Grouse (or Pheasant or partridge or duck etc). You can’t see most of these and you won’t find them by crunching your meat very carefully either.
Here’s an X-ray of a partridge (not sure which species):
You can see five largely intact lead pellets – the round things! In this study, these pellets would have been removed either by searching for pellets in the cooked meat, or by X-raying the meat to remove any pellets not found by searching (they are very small) before analysing for lead content. In real life, you would either remove them by spitting them out, or more politely putting them on the side of your plate, or quite often you wouldn’t encounter them at all and you’d swallow them and they would add to the lead content of your meal as some of their mass dissolved in your guts and was absorbed into the bloodstream.
You can also see some big arrows: either red or greenish. The greenish arrow points to what is probably a fragment of bone. In real life, it is very easy to distinguish between lead fragments and bone fragments on the X-rays. The bone fragments are dull compared with the very bright lead fragments, some of which are pointed out with red arrows here.
The lead fragments are very small and can travel a long way (inches) from the path of the pellet from which they are shed. It seems odd perhaps, but it’s true. Once you’ve seen a few of these X-rays you get used to it.
Here’s another X-ray, this time of a Red Grouse, though not of one of the Red Grouse analysed in this study:
One very obvious pellet here, and lots and lots of pellet fragments.
Here’s another Red Grouse:
Again, there’s a very obvious pellet, a couple of bone fragments indicated by greenish arrows and many lead fragments shown with red arrows.
So the point of this post is to show you that tiny pieces of lead spread through the flesh of a shot bird. These are what load the meat of a gamebird with lead – a poison. You can’t see most of them, and you can’t remove them either by tentative eating of your delicious meal, or by clever butchery.
If you swallow lead shot because you haven’t bothered to remove them, or tried and failed to detect them, then your lead input will be higher than indicated by this study.
Lead is a poison.
We have removed lead from paints, water pipes, fishing weights, and most significantly from petrol. All of these changes were opposed by vested interests at the time and no-one is asking for those changes to be reversed these days (see here, here, here, here)
Symptoms of high lead levels are various.
Consumption of one game meat meal per fortnight (of small game such as pheasants, grouse, pigeons, partridges, shot with lead shot) will reduce child IQ by 1 point.
An expert group, whose existence is partly down to me when I worked at the RSPB, and on which I sat until I left the RSPB, has produced a report whose findings have been in the public domain for months, even though Defra is mysteriously sitting on the actual report. The findings of that group recommend that lead ammunition should be phased out as:
- Safer alternatives to lead ammunition are now available and being improved and adapted all the time for use in different shooting disciplines. There is considerable experience from other countries where change has already been undertaken.
- There is no evidence to suggest that a phase out of lead ammunition and the use of alternatives would have significant drawbacks for wildlife or human health or, at least, none that carry the same scale of risks as continuing use of lead; though there are procedural, technical and R&D issues still to work on and resolve.
- There is no convincing evidence on which to conclude that other options, short of replacement of lead ammunition, will address known risks to human health, especially child health
The UK government agreed at an international meeting in Quito in autumn 2014 to phase out the use of lead ammunition in three years – and has, as yet, not done a thing.
Countries such as Denmark banned the use of lead ammunition a couple of decades ago – shooters wouldn’t want it back.
There are no real problems for shooters in switching to ammunition which is non-toxic and which avoids all these harmful impacts.
Banning lead ammunition isn’t difficult – lots of countries, and states in the USA, have done it.
Banning lead isn’t banning shooting – it’s banning poisoning our environment and our food.
Defra is sitting on a scientific report which comes to the conclusion that lead ammunition should be banned and has been inactive for over seven months. This is a scandal.
This is Lead Week on this blog.
Later this week I will reveal the results of the analyses* of Red Grouse purchased in Iceland Food stores earlier in the year.
These results will be of particular interest to Iceland Foods and Iceland Food customers.
These results will be of interest to Liz Truss and Rory Stewart, Defra ministers who have sat on the report of the Lead Ammunition Group that they received seven and a half months ago and have not released to the public and have not commented upon.
These results will be of interest to the Food Standards Agency who have also had access to the results of the Lead Ammunition Group for many years and whose job it is to protect the public from hazards.
These results may be of interest to health correspondents of media who might want to ask government what it is doing about the health risks of lead-shot game and to ask shooting organisations why they oppose the phasing out of lead ammunition even though safe, non-toxic alternatives exist (and have been adopted elsewhere in the world).
These results probably won’t be of any interest at all to the shooting community, including the Countryside Alliance, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and Moorland Association, who have known of the high lead levels in game meat for many years and have still pushed game meat as a healthy option.
But before we get to the results I intend to set out the background to this subject in a series of blogs.
*The analyses that I am going to describe in a series of blogs this week were carried out by Dr Mark Taggart’s team at the Environmental Research Institute (University of the Highlands and Islands, Thurso). The graphs of the results were produced by them as well. I, Mark Avery, didn’t have anything to do with analysing the samples except that I bought them and supplied them to Dr Taggart, and Dr Taggart had nothing to do with writing these blogs or the opinions expressed in them – having solely supplied the analytical data.
Our e-petition to ask government to ban driven grouse shooting received 33,615 signatures (and it is still going up slowly as people click on their confirmation emails).
I think that is pretty good and certainly represents considerable progress on last year.
I’d like to thank everyone who helped – but I can’t name everyone here because some people wish to remain anonymous and there will be many people who have done things of which I am unaware. So I would like to say ‘Thank you!‘ to everyone – whoever you are and whatever you did.
My mind is moving towards the next e-petition – it has been for a while.
The first question is ‘Should there be one?’. I’m pretty sure the answer to that is ‘yes’ because we still have momentum. As we approached the finishing post we were still gathering lots of names. Next time, we can do even better. And, to be fair, we (that’s mostly me, but a bunch of mates as well) are learning all the time. But I am interested in what you think – either publicly, as a comment here, or privately by email.
The second question would be what should it say – and is there a possibility of engaging our sleeping wildlife conservation organisations to join us. We’ll see.
Standing back for a moment, 33,615 signatures is a lot. An awful lot.
The bit of perspective is that when 100 UK environmental and wildlife organisations joined together to ask the public and their members to support the nature directives they persuaded ‘over 100,000‘ people in three months.
Honestly, give me the membership lists, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and a small fraction of the money that those 100 organisations invested in the nature directives (which are well worth supporting) and I promise you, absolutely promise you, that I’d deliver 100,000 signatures in six months to get a debate to ban driven grouse shooting.
We’re doing well – and we are building a movement for change.
Have a few weeks off – but there is more to do.
Our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting closed at midnight on Thursday and now, with most people who signed before midnight having clicked on the confirmation email, it has reached a total of 33,614 signatures; rather satisfyingly, exactly 50% more than last year’s similar e-petition.
Without any practical support from our large wildlife NGOs, we achieved a third of the total needed to trigger a debate in parliament. Just think where we could have reached with that support.
The constituencies with at least 100 signatures are as follows:
Calder Valley 457 signatures – Craig Whittaker MP, CON
High Peak 158 signatures – Andrew Bingham MP, CON
Isle of Wight 155 signatures – Andrew Turner MP, CON
Brighton Pavilion 148 signatures – Caroline Lucas MP, GREEN
Bristol West 147 signatures – Thangam Debbonaire MP, LAB
North Norfolk 142 signatures – Norman Lamb MP, LIB
Penrith and the Borders 142 signatures – Rory Stewart MP, CON, and Defra minister
Stroud 133 signatures – Neil Carmichael MP, CON
Cambridge 132 signatures – Daniel Zeichner MP, LAB
Sheffield Central 129 signatures – Paul Blomfield MP, LAB
Westmorland and Lonsdale 127 signatures – Tim Farron MP, LIB, amd Liberal leader
Skipton and Ripon 127 signatures – Julian Smith MP, CON
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey 125 signatures – Drew Hendry MP, SNP
Norwich South 123 signatures – Clive Smith MP, LAB
South Cambs 122 signatures – Heidi Allen MP, CON
Torridge and West Devon 119 signatures – Geoffrey Cox MP, CON
Derbyshire Dales 115 signatures – Patrick McCloughlin MP, CON
Truro and Falmouth 115 signatures – Sarah Newton MP, CON
South Norfolk 114 signatures – Richard Bacon MP, CON
Thirsk and Malton 111 signatures – Keith Hollinrake MP, CON
Ross, Skye, Lochaber 110 signatures – Ian Blackford MP, SNP
West Dorset 109 signatures – Oliver Letwin MP, CON
Southeast Cambs 106 signatures – Lucy Frazer MP, CON
Northeast Bedfordshire 105 signatures – Alistair Burt MP, CON
Exeter 105 signatures – Ben Bradshaw MP, LAB
Central Devon 104 signatures – Mel Stride MP, CON
Richmond (Yorks) 103 signatures – Rishi Sunak MP, CON
Lancaster and Fleetwood 101 signatures – Cat Smith MP, LAB
Harrogate and Knaresborough 101 signatures – Andrew Jones MP, CON
Suffolk Coastal 101 signatures – Theresa Coffey MP, CON
Argyll and Bute 100 signatures – Brendan O’Hara MP, SNP
Edinburgh North and Leith 100 signatures – Deidre Brock MP, SNP
Keighley 100 signatures – Kris Hopkins MP, CON
Totnes 100 signatures – Sarah Wollaston MP CON
If you live in any of these constituencies why not write to your MP to tell them that you signed the e-petition and that their constituency was one of the areas of high support. Ask them what their own views are on the subject.
Thank you to the 33,574 of you who also signed my (our) e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
This sends a message to government and the grouse shooting industry that things need to change.
You have sent a strong message to wildlife NGOs that there is huge popular support for a much more radical solution to the management of our uplands and the protection of threatened wildlife than they are pursuing.
We are building a movement – and we will win!
We will be back – watch this space.
The final total will creep up through the day as people click on the confirmation emails they have received.
If these kids are to see Hen Harriers in the English uplands then we need a better plan than that of the hapless Defra.
And we do…
…here it is…
Ban driven grouse shooting! – please sign this e-petition now!
E-petition closes at 23:59, today, Thursday.