BASC and Countryside Alliance – the chocolate scare

You may remember that the Food Standards Agency recently updated its advice on eating game shot with lead.

And you may remember that BASC (see link) and the Countryside Alliance (see link) trotted out some outrageous nonsense about there being more lead in chocolate than in the meat of game that had been shot with lead (my blogs on this subject here, here).

I contacted the Chief Scientist of the Food Standards Agency through posting a comment on his blog (here is the link).

And here is the text of Dr Andrew Wadge’s response (and here is the link):

Don’t shoot your chocolate Santa

Thanks for your comments on lead-shot game, especially for bringing to my attention the claim that ‘pound-for-pound there is more lead in chocolate than game’. There is absolutely no justification for such a claim. The recent EFSA Scientific Opinion [http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/1570.pdf], which includes data submitted to EFSA by member states including the UK, makes clear that the mean levels for game are much higher than for chocolate.

In our risk assessment, the average values for lead were 0.195 mg/kg lead in wild deer and for game birds it was 1.87 mg/kg. This is 2 – 22 times the average levels of lead in chocolate and chocolate products (0.083 mg/kg; EFSA opinion on lead). Data from the paper by Pain et al. (referenced in the enquiry) were considered and included in the Agency’s risk assessment.

There is, of course, no need to eat lead-shot game, or chocolate for that matter, as part of a balanced diet. But you are far more likely to be harmed by the levels of saturated fat and sugars in chocolate than by its lead content – unless you prefer your chocolate Santa also to have been used for target practice.

That seems pretty clear although I suspect that BASC and the CA will need some encouragement to remove these untruths from their websites.  November is Game to Eat month where the Countryside Alliance promotes the value of eating game (not chocolate).  The Countryside Alliance is a registered charity, charity number 1121034.

Please help get the truth out there by sending a copy of this blog to your MP as they have all been ‘briefed’ on this subject by the Countryside Alliance.  Your MP’s contact details can be found by following this link.

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27 Replies to “BASC and Countryside Alliance – the chocolate scare”

  1. It would certainly be better if the CA and BASC removed this from their websites especially when pursued so doggedly!

    I would make the point that most shooters prefer lead as it is more humane to shot animals and birds. I have spent some time talking to stalkers who have trialled copper bullets on deer. The results have been patchy which has led to less expansion of the bullets than would happen with lead ammunition, this makes it more difficult to kill the deer cleanly and makes the risk of the bullet remaining lethal one it has passed through the animal. There need s to be much more work done on this type of projectile.

    I would also say that voluntary use of non lead should not be overlooked by individuals.

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    1. Mark - many thanks. You certainly seem to have been bitten by this subject - I'm glad.

      I have heard similar things about the humanity of different ammunition - this isn't something I know much about but I recognise it as being a potentially important issue. i wonder how those countries (and US states) which have banned lead ammunition have coped? Are we supposed to think that they care less about these issues than UK shooters - that strains my credulity a little.

      I, too, have had conversations with stalkers - I had two short ones this summer but I had others whilst I was still working for the RSPB. The RSPB kills quite a lot of deer as part of its management of reserves such as Abernethy and the stalkers there seem very happy with using copper bullets. They've now had plenty of experience over several years with this ammunition. i do wonder whether the stalkers you talked to have actually used non-toxic ammunition or are trotting out things they have read in the shooting 'literature' or herd from others. I'd be interested to know.

      I believe, though I am not totally sure, that FC stalkers in Scotland at least switched from lead to non-toxic shot some time ago. It would be interesting to hear their views.

      And I agree, voluntary use of non-toxic shot would be a good thing to do.

      Thank you again for your knowledgeable and thoughtful comments.

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      1. I have indeed been bitten by this, I think I am getting a reputation as a bit of a lead free bore amongst friends! Much of the arguments in favour of lead I fundamentally disagree with however there is still the issue of bullets for larger mammals. I can imagine Abernethy stalkers cope well with copper bullets, they have huge mountains to stop bullets that don't stay in the animal, also if a deer runs on after the shot they have a line of clear sight to track the deer. This situation is not so in the south of England. I only mention this as it is the only type of shooting where I can see a problem with lead free ammunition.
        There is definitely a problem with shooting organisations relying on flawed science but also I think it is important for the RSPB and conservation organisations to take genuine concerns of stalkers and deer managers into account.
        As a member of BASC, an organisation I admire greatly I am saddened how much I agree with Hugh!

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        1. Mark - good for you. You may well be right about Abernethy. The RSPB position on lead for deer control was reached after trials of non-toxic bullets at Abernethy (and I think elsewhere) by RSPB staff whose job it is (partly) to control deer. So it wasn't reached in ignorance of the practicalities. And, of course, it was informed by the fact that deer carcasses were being sold into human food chain (and probably given away too).

          I am saddened by the BASC stance on this -I would have expected better from them. I am unsurprised by the CA position.

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  2. The BASC and CA have been guilty of the worst kind of cherry-picking from the data in the FSA report, but this seemingly deliberate obfuscation would perhaps have been impossible had the initial report been as unambiguous as Dr Wadge's statement above. Given that science is now regularly viewed as the trump card in any argument, I feel that scientists must be more careful than ever to present clear reports, free from jargon and accessible to the non-specialist. Meanwhile the BASC and CA will I fear continue to reject any truths brought to their attention by people outside of their own entrenched ranks.

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  3. Would assume that the RSPB use copper bullets for culling lots of Sika Deer at Arne RSPB and cannot get much further south than that,would need Mark to confirm that fact of type of bullets used.

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    1. Dennis - I am too out of touch to know these days, but I would expect so unless there were reasons (that I can't imagine) that it was a bad idea.

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  4. Perhaps BASC and the Countryside Alliance should be directed to the excellent Sense About Science organisation for advice about how to interpret and present scientific results.

    http://www.senseaboutscience.org/

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  5. It would be very interesting to know the opinions of those who use non-toxic ammunition. I am very surprised at the attitude of the BASC as I have always thought that they were a respectable organisation, but on this issue they seem to be lumped with the much more extreme CA. Anyway, email sent to the MP on this issue.

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  6. Mark, given that the mass of a lead rifled round is about 120 grams versus the average dressed out weight of say a fallow deer of maybe around some hundred kg I can't really see the justification on a practical basis on using copper ammunition on a percentage contamination basis. I suspect the RSPB point on this is purely based on policy rather than a practical examination of the issue which is of course their business but shouldn't have a direct effect on common practise. Small game shot with say 30 gram cartridges would have a far greater effect on lead levels when the dressed weight of say a pheasant would be a few kg.

    Frankly though personally I don't really care as I stand a lot more chance of pegging it via chocolate !

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    1. Julian - and yet the lead levels in venison are elevated - though it does appear as though pheasant, grouse, partridge have much higher levels. All have been measured - no longer guesswork. And since lead is a poison then wherever we can switch to non-toxic ammunition the better.

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    2. julian
      I think that you must mean a lead round of 120 grains as 120g of lead is a very large lump and would be equivalent to the large lead weights used by sea anglers for beach casting. Am no expert but I believe that a .45 bullet will weigh around 7grams

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  7. Mark I agree with you and I would whole heartily support your position if i felt that the ballistic properties of non lead were humane. Without going into to much detail it's really a simple calculation to make which is one of mass combined with energy which gives the velocity needed to be effective. That's a very simplistic explanation and other factors just as lead deforming etc all have an effect. I don't think we will find the military using a non lead round ?

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  8. David yes your right 120 g is 7.8 grams my apologies. Depending on where the deer was shot contamination in the rest of the body would be negligible. Pure common sense would suggest that the individual samples tested must have been subject to some major variations depending on where in the animal they were obtained.

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    1. Julian - thanks. Common sense is a poor guide - the Earth looks pretty flat to me (it's common sense). These things have been measured. Measured. There is no doubt about the levels of lead in lead-shot meat - we know them. And the advice is to reduce their intake for particular groups of people.

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  9. Sorry Mark had to come back to you on this as I read the FSA report.

    Extract "samples of pheasant and venison with a maximum concentration of 1.63 mg/kg in one sample of pheasant. The mean concentration was 0.41 mg/kg for samples of pheasant and 0.05 mg/kg for venison. A majority of the samples of venison (10 out of 13) had lead concentrations below the limit of detection."

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  10. Julian you're right the army wouldn't use a non-lead bullet, depleted uranium and armour piercing bullets are more the army style. I just don't simply understand the resistance to the switch? Do you really want to eat meat contaminated with lead?

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  11. No obviously not ! The reluctance is on humane grounds as I said earlier. Cost is irrelevant and if there was a non lead alternative with the ballistics of lead then it would be simple. Interestingly it seems that the. Norwegian forces are looking at non lead ammunition for training purposes but have had some problems to date. It may be that as so often there will be a spinoff from that type of initiative.

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    1. Sorry Julian, but I don't buy into the "humane" argument one bit. After all if it was on humane grounds would you pick up a gun to shoot a bird in the first place? Why in a country that is defined by it's gun culture and it's right to bear arms (USA) have wildfowlers taken to lead free alternatives like the proverbial duck to water. It's only the NRA who are kicking up a fuss over the issue.

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  12. Okay very justifiable position in my view and I respect it. We were discussing RSPB culling deer on their reserves though to be fair.

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  13. And Mark when I've got the good grace to take on board your critism of me in suggesting that measurable levels of lead in deer meat might be dependant upon where the sample was taken and then i subsequently lift a section from the bery FSA report you were discussing, which vindicates my point, you might at least acknowledge it.

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  14. I just came across this:
    http://www.peregrinefund.org/docs/pdf/research-library/2006/2006-Hunt-bullet-fragments.pdf
    You've probably seen it already but I thought it was interesting and worth drawing to your attention just in case.

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