Are you game?

Jan Weenix (1639/1643–1719) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Spanish Agency on Food Safety and Nutrition has looked at the human health risks associated with use of lead shot in hunting.  I guess Spaniards eat quite a bit more game than you and I, and that hunters eat more than non-hunters do.  If you are an Andalucian game-hunter (and I guess you are not, but if you are – Hola!) you eat about 23g of deer or wild boar meat per  day.

This report seems to say what I have always assumed, that for the general public, game consumption is sufficiently low that despite the levels of lead in the meat it is nothing much to worry about.  However, for those who eat lots of lead-shot game, and those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of lead (particularly on the nervous system) then a bit of caution is needed.

On that basis, this report suggests, amongst other things, that:

Children under 6 years of age, pregnant women and women who plan on getting pregnant should avoid eating the meat of game that has been shot with lead ammunition.

‘In adults, wild game meat consumption should be limited to a maximum of one portion per week (approx. 150 g)’

‘…limiting the use of lead ammunition in favour of other available alternatives should be promoted. The presence of Pb in wild game meat can be eliminated by using lead-free ammunition or reduced by using certain types of ammunition’

That all sounds sensible to me.  I wonder whether it feels sensible to the Countryside Alliance who have a ‘Game to Eat‘ campaign which states that game is a tasty healthy alternative to lamb, chicken, beef or pork.  The CA makes no mention that I can see of the potential downsides of lead to some sectors of the population.  Their campaign suggests that we should all eat more game, and they oppose the move to non-toxic ammunition (despite its widespread use in other countries).



10 Replies to “Are you game?”

  1. I am fairly sure that this is a bit of a red herring. There are risks posed by many substances and the risk posed by the theoretical absorption into the carcass of a shot animal must be tiny. Most of the reasons that shooters do not like using ‘unleaded’ is because the alternatives are less humane. I have a friend who is involved culling deer on a flagship RSPB (or whatever you will rename it!!) reserve, he is using lead free rifle ammunition, it is difficult to use. There are mean minded shooters who resent paying the higher prices for lead free ammunition but I would suggest they are in the minority. I am an avid reader of your blog and see it as the most sensible literature in a sea of hype and sensationalism!

    1. Mark – thank you. First, it is not theoretical absorption of lead into carcasses – it is absolutely real and proven from studies in the USA, the UK and elsewhere in Europe. The Spanish study referenced in my blog is just one example of where lead levels have been measures and contains a lot of literature that has done similar work.

      Second, I don’t think lead is the biggest health risk in the world (but although a Dr, I am not that type of Dr) but the recommendations from the Spanish body for avoidance of game meat for pregnant women and young children cannot be dismissed with just a ‘pretty sure that this is a bit of a red herring’. When a health agency suggests avoiding some types of food on health grounds then that is worth noticing.

      Third, I wonder which RSPB nature reserve you mean as in my time at the RSPB, and again this summer on a private visit, I have spoken to RSPB staff who cull deer and they have no problems with using non-toxic alternative ammunition – no problems at all. RSPB decided to switch away from using lead bullets for deer control because those deer were often going into the human food chain.

      Fourth, I know nothing about the ballistics questions and so I must defer to the expertise of others – including yourself.

      Fifth, thank you for your kind remarks about this blog – much appreciated – keep commenting please!

  2. Morning Mark – Your piece today reminds me of something my father said to me when I was about to start Grammar School. He saw me going to the “posh school” (his words) as a big but worrying step up for the family. “You be careful there are a lot of posh people there” he said. He went on “They can be a bit daft you know -Too much inbreeding and too much lead shot in their bloodstream”.

    It seems my Dad was ahead of his time!

    1. Derek – you seem to have inherited his brains and his wit! And, it seems, a healthy scepticism about the established order of things…

  3. And there’s also no mention why they are opposed to lead shots being replaced by other forms of shots. For example if they were to say a lead shot can ensure a kill then you may be able to reason with the arguement. One thing that does stick out is how organised they are…a lesson to be learnt I think.

  4. Maybe we should make sure some of the celebrity chefs featured on the game to eat website are aware of this most recent research. Some of the endorsements made me blink even without the lead shot issue.

    I mean Jamie Oliver is one of the good guys, so how did he write: Game birds are wild birds eating natural food, so if you want to eat something fantastic and support an ethically sounds food source, this is where its at.

  5. I read in a well known food magazine only yesterday ( yes I know its sad I read them sometimes!) a quote from a well known Yorkshire chef and TV cook that game is natural, healthy and sustainable ( no mention of lead or the release of millions of non natives to shoot, or the widespread illegality of raptor control). The CA or Countryside Areliars as they are better known are vigorously campaigning on behalf of lead shot users for its retention, perhaps their high lead levels from so much ” good and natural” food has addled their thoughts!
    Other countries have banned it with no apparent adverse effects on their game shooting. We know from surveys that lead is widely and illegally used to shoot wildfowl so it seems that the only way forward is to ban it altogether. Then game meat may be natural and healthy.

  6. I wouldn’t really want to eat too much lead.

    You’ll recall Somerset people were know for being a bit slow in the old days. And apparently it was true and we now know the cause: Somerset cider was a lot sharper than the superior Hereforshire brand (of its day I hasten to add before modern growers are up in arms !) so in Somerset they added ‘flowers of lead’ which sweetened it up nicely……..

  7. “Their campaign suggests that we should all eat more game”

    Why would they do that? Is there a surplus, over what the “guns” and their WAGs can eat themselves? If so, is this a carrot & stick attempt to create demand and justify the production of more game?

    I would eat more game if it was more easily available (rabbit, wood pigeon) and at less silly prices (venison). These species are plentiful and wasteful of cropped land – they could be seen as farmed meat production. Whereas the unnatural interventions required to produce a surplus of some game birds degrade large areas of natural habitat disproportionate to any quantitative or qualitative value for human food.

    The CA 2011 recipe booklet says “A juicy, golden roasted pheasant is hard to beat … “. Wrong – it’s actually very easy. With a Guinea Fowl. And – I was once served with chicken soup at a lakeside cafe at Ellesmere which was far too Canada goosey to be true.

Comments are closed.