This is a scandal and yet no-one seems to want to expose it

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The shooting industry is poisoning thousands of children and has known it is for years – and yet it still promotes wild-shot, lead-shot game meat as a healthy option.

See the minutes of the meeting of the Lead Ammunition Group of 16 April 2014 which say: The survey estimated in UK that 5,500 – 12,500 under eight year olds consumed game once a week or more, and that 27,000-62,000 adults eat game more than once a week.

Now, assuming that this was wild-shot game (as the heading says) and that the majority of this was shot with lead ammunition (as it will have been), then it needs to be compared with the advice of the Food Standards Agency on 8 October 2012 which said:

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.‘ (see my blog of 9 October 2012).

The FSA must have based their advice partly on this paper published earlier that year which shows that children consuming less than one meal per week of game, shot with lead ammunition, can be expected to suffer a loss of IQ of one IQ point. This appears to apply to at least 5,500 children each year in the UK, and maybe as many as 12,500 – some of whom (eg the children of gamekeepers) may be eating considerably more than one meal of lead-shot game meat each week.

Lead ammunition, remarkably enough, sheds tiny particles of lead as it travels through the flesh of a shot animal such as a deer, pheasant, grouse, rabbit, woodpigeon etc.  This lead cannot be removed through butchering and it is practically invisible (we aren’t talking about the actual lead shot themselves – we are talking about tiny fragments of lead).  This has been known for quite some time – to nature conservationists and shooters alike – the first time I heard about it was after this conference held in May 2008, attended by staff from RSPB and BASC.

The RSPB stopped using lead ammunition to cull deer on its nature reserves in 2009 as it was sufficiently convinced of the wildlife and human health impacts of this issue.  The deer culled in nature reserves such as Abernethy  were entering the human food chain as venison and RSPB Council agreed that the evidence for harm was sufficient to stop using lead bullets for deer control – particularly since non-toxic alternatives were readily available.

The Lead Ammunition Group was set up in 2010 after the RSPB and WWT wrote to Defra suggesting that it should be – on the basis of the scientific evidence. Until I left the RSPB I attended meetings of this group. So I do know about its genesis and early days.

The shooting community has admitted privately that the days of lead ammunition are numbered but has done nothing much to hasten its end – as with driven grouse shooting, they have dug their heels in, denied the evidence of harm, and played for time. In this case, every year that goes by without a complete ban on lead ammunition harms thousands of children (and tens of thousands of adults too). How many thousands of children have to be harmed before shooting organisations will take action?

Many of the affected children must be gamekeepers’ children – the children of gamekeepers whose employers’ organisations have known the evidence for years and yet done everything they could to prolong the harm by fighting against any measures to limit the use of lead ammunition.  This is a disgrace.

The organisations most to blame on this count are: the Countryside Alliance, BASC and the GWCT.  All have known the evidence for many years and none has done anything much to address the problem.

The Countryside Alliance has continued to promote game as a healthy food – despite FSA warnings and despite the science.

They say: ‘Game is wild, natural and free range and if you are looking for something low in fat and cholesterol, game is a delicious and healthy alternative to many other red meats.
They don’t say: lead-shot game meat on sale in supermarkets and game dealers often has lead levels so high that the meat could not be sold if it were beef, pork, lamb, chicken etc.

They say: ‘Weight for weight, there is more lead in some forms of chocolate than any game meat found in the UK

They don’t say:  that when challenged on this statement the FSA Chief Scientist wrote:

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 [], 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.‘ (see my blog of 12 November 2012).



They say: ‘Let me make BASC’s position on lead totally clear: no sound evidence, no change’. BASC Chief Executive, Richard Ali.

They don’t say: BASC staff were present at that 2008 conference in Boise, Idaho and were just as aware as anyone else of the importance of its findings. BASC carried out surveys of its members’ game consumption which they were very slow to disclose to the LAG despite repeated enquiries (by me actually). BASC have known for years the science demonstrating that game meat can contain high lead levels, that their own surveys indicated high levels of lead-shot game consumption and that this indicated a health risk to their own members and to the general public.

They have also known that non-toxic ammunition was available and widely used in other countries.  They don’t say that countries like Denmark phased out lead ammunition for all shooting, including target shooting, years ago and yet game-bird shooting continues in Denmark as a major pastime.



They say: nothing that I can find.

They don’t say: that they have been made aware of all the science as it has been carried out over the years and that they had a public duty to act on that science.


Here we have a situation where the ‘leading’ bodies of the shooting community have had all the science on the impacts of lead ammunition on human health for years. They have known of high lead levels in meat for human consumption. They have known of the increasing health concerns.  They have known that there are non-toxic alternative ammunitions available. They have known that other countries have acted on this evidence.  And yet they have done nothing to meet this challenge.  They are waiting to be told not to use lead ammunition rather than phasing it out themselves.  This is a scandal.  Shooting has been badly led and the public has been badly served by these shooting organisations.

Why has this happened? It seems that the current slightly higher cost of non-toxic ammunition has been too high a price for these organisations to pay – they have accepted harm to thousands of children rather than pay a bit more for their sport.  The Countryside Alliance has campaigned in favour of retaining lead ammunition on the grounds that it is traditional, and cheap.  That’s a scandal.


By the way, spent lead ammunition poisons millions of waterfowl too.




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10 Replies to “This is a scandal and yet no-one seems to want to expose it”

  1. They will continue to deny such claims, just like the persecution of raptors. They think they are untouchable. They don't want to listen and hold onto beliefs and traditions that are so outdated and instead of taking new findings on board they pose a risk to society and wildlife. I personally don't like any game meat, so I should be alright, apart from the odd bar of choccie, better knock that on the head then!

  2. Mark,

    The adverse health effects of low level exposure to lead, especially in small children is well know, and has been well documented. Raptor Politics has published at least three articles about this specific problem which not only poses a significant health risk for human beings, but also for many forms of wildlife e,g, the Californian Condor.

    Getting back to the use of lead shot by the shooting fraternity on moorland used to shoot red grouse. Many of your readers will be totally unaware and even appalled to learn that cartridges filled with lead shot have been used throughout the past 200 years, and are still being used, on moorland in the Forest of Bowland used as water catchments owned by United Utilities. The build up during those two centuries of concentrations of lead shot surrounding gun butts on this estate alone has been estimated to be in the region of many tons. I understand following a canvass two years ago of all of England's water utility companies, United Utilities remain the only water company that continues to allow the wide-scale use of lead shot on their upland water catchments despite the well known health issues.

    I have added several links to recent articles published on the Raptor Politics web site which your readers may find helpful.

    1. Terry - thanks v much.

      Am listening to your podcast with Charlie Moores right now (half way through) the link will appear on this blog tomorrow evening.

    2. It would be interesting to know how and if the water companies that do not allow lead shot monitor what their tenants are using. I suspect it is not monitored and given the shooting lobby's ignoring of the no lead on wildfowl most will still be using lead. What is quite quite clear is that
      1 the shooting lobby do not change anything willingly be it lead use, raptor persecution, land management practices.
      2 When change is forced on them, it must be monitored otherwise they will largely ignore it. The cost should be borne by them.
      3 If shot manufacturers stopped producing lead ammunition nobody could use it!

  3. Given La Truss's interests in early learning, assessment, qualifications and curriculum reform, behaviour and attendance, and opposition to dumbing down in general, she might be rather sympathetic to arguments against selling lead-contaminated meat and randomly covering land with lead than the previous incumbent. Don't tell us, tell her

  4. Compare the intransigence of the shooting fraternity over the use of lead shot and the changes made by the fishing community when it was found that swans were ingesting lead shot. Tungsten has now replaced lead for anglers' weights.

    1. As kids we always tried to re-use split shot and to lose a ledger weight was a tragedy. This was economically necessity as two bob a week didn't go far. Shooting should become far more frugal and reduce the shot permitted in each cartridge to five. This would significantly reduce the wasted lead burden on land and anyone hitting a flying target would actually have something to brag about. Clay shooting should move on and use the new iShoot Virtual Flying Pigeon and Laser HUD system now being developed in collaboration with Purdeys and Super Mario.

  5. Well done the anglers. Would shooters be more receptive to persuasion from their angling friends than those they probably think of a loony greens? Please could the anglers try?

  6. Many years ago, anglers moved away from split lead shot in favour of tungsten or possibly bismuth.

    While use of steel shot is not possible with some old guns I would think there has been time to phase in new guns using modern non toxic shot.


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