Easy win on lead, minister

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The incoming DEFRA ministers, will soon have to make a decision on whether to ban the use of lead ammunition in England. The science is pretty straightforward, and has been reviewed by an expert group, but the expected recommendation, to ban lead ammunition, will be deeply unpopular with vocal interest groups.

I had a part in kicking off this process when, in October 2009, I wrote a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Environment (Hilary Benn) and the Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham) asking for a group to be set up to look at the impacts of lead poisoning on wildlife and human health. My co-signatory, Dr Debbie Pain of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and I had been influenced by the results of a symposium in the USA in 2008 which looked at these issues. American wildlife and health experts were concerned about the impacts of lead levels in game meat entering the human and wildlife food chains.

Lead is a poison, which is why we have removed it from petrol, paint, water pipes etc. The impacts of lead are particularly strong on young children and the growing foetus but there is no ‘safe’ lead level for humans of any age – the less lead you ingest the better.

When an animal is shot with a lead bullet or lead shot then as the ammunition passes through the animal’s flesh tiny fragments of lead are shed, and spread through the tissues. If the animal is eaten by a scavenging bird or mammal then it ingests the lead. If it is eaten by you or me in a restaurant then we ingest it. We’re talking tiny fragments here, not the pellets themselves.

For most meat you buy in a restaurant or supermarket maximum lead levels are set by law and are at 100 parts per billion (wet weight). For game meat, which is normally shot with lead, inexplicably no such limits are set. Studies have shown that about half of the game meat (eg pheasant, rabbit, pigeon, grouse) bought in supermarkets or from game dealers is above the legal level for beef, pork, chicken etc. Some samples, around 10 per cent, are more than ten times that level, and a few are 100 times the level that would be legal in most meat.

Since we wrote our original letter health authorities have become more concerned about the impacts of lead generally, and of ingestion of lead in game meat in particular, and in 2012 the Food Standards Agency strengthened its advice in response to the growing evidence.

The simple solution to the problem is to ban the use of lead ammunition and switch to existing non-toxic alternatives such as steel, bismuth etc. This is strongly opposed by the shooting industry who have come up with a long list of arguments about why it’s not fair, not practicable and not what they want. I’m no expert on ballistics but the fact that Denmark phased out all lead ammunition a decade and a half ago, and yet Danish wildfowlers and hunters still carry their guns into the countryside for a day’s sport, suggests to me that the problems are more to do with conservatism than anything else.

Recently, California joined a few other US states in banning lead bullets on human health, but also California Condor health grounds. Lead poisoning from ingestion is that main break to the increase in the Condor population.

The Lead Ammunition Group which was set up over five years ago has written its report and it will be sent to Defra ministers soon after the general election. Banning lead ammunition will be an easy win for the incoming administration.

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15 Replies to “Easy win on lead, minister”

  1. and as long as the people of britain make sure the tories are no where even close to having any power then it might actually be banned.
    though if they vote the tories back in again, then there's no chance

  2. Mark

    Yet more in factual made up evidence surrounding lead. Just another attack on a legitimate group of people from a bunch of muppets who for the life of them can't accept that shooting is probably the only reason why we have such diverse wildlife species in the uk. "oh but the condors the condors" hate to break this to we have no condors. Oh and looking at other article on your site, you got it more made up rubbish have you ever spent a reasonable amount of time on a grouse moor I have i worked on one. there is no raptor/ grouse conflict it's just another made up excuse to challenge the shooting community.

    1. Billy - you're right, spelling, punctuation and grammar wouldn't have made your comment any more convincing. Thank you for passing by here.

  3. So why did the Norwegian government recently move to repeal the ban Mark with Denmark about to ban tungsten and re-review lead?

    WWT's scientific claims were flimsy at best when scrutinised and reportedly more a coffer-swelling campaign.

    Lead has been in use for a couple of hundred years with how many human deaths attributed to it through ingestion?

    Bad science, hidden agendas and well PR'd hegemony in my opinion...

    1. Jon - the Danes and the UK both voted, as part of EU delegation, along with rest of world, to phase out lead ammunition as quickly as possible last autumn. That'll clearly be the hidden agendas of world governments rather than the human health and wildlife mortality evidence?

  4. Show me the actual scientific data stating the number of fatalities and illnesses specifically as a result from lead ingestion through eating shot game.

    Now show me the hard data for the deaths of birds that has been caused by lead ingestion not including wildfowl

    I want facts not some figure plucked out the air or off the Internet

      1. Some of the recent respondents will be seeking to bring back child labour - you know the good old days when one would doff one's cap t'lud o' manor? Grateful for 'jobs' &c.?

        Recall the cigarette companies also refuted impact of tobacco on health?

        Selective science to exclude wildfowl, I wonder why?

        Shooting = diverse wildlife: where Billy, on your dinner plate?

        1. Well because lead for wildfowling is banned

          And I suggest you visit an area that has sporting interests to one that doesn't and then come back and tell me difference.

          "on your dinner plate" Grow up child

          1. Simon - and compliance with the lead ban is very low and hasn't changed in a decade. Shooters breaking the law - not the way to win over the public.

          2. Yes, thanks for the reminder Simon - I would indeed like children to grow up and be able to see living biodiversity where it belongs naturally rather than sample it on their dinner plates as you guys seem to prefer. That assumes you eat rather than dumping it in pits? If you don't then go and shoot clays or other easy targets ....

        1. Simon - your critique of the science in PLOSone paper and the Boise symposium is...? Absent.

  5. "That'll clearly be the hidden agendas of world governments rather than the human health and wildlife mortality evidence?"

    ...based on scurrilous claims and donation moneys used for lobbying fighting funds instead of their intended reserves Mark?

    Potatoes, chocolate and respective lead content, wild claims of bird mortality due to lead (other than that proactively shot with the stuff).

    No sound evidence, no change... And to date - find me a mortality, or serious health condition - developing in humans and linked to particulate lead ingestion in the past 200 years... no?

    Your voice is one of restrained biliousness. You can't abide shooting, nor see/appreciate the benefits to economy or biodiversity it brings - so, in that parochial mindset, you look to disarm and create chaos amongst a sizeable proportion with scaremongering as a part of achieving your personal agenda and your fellow protectionists' political aims.

    What happens after your lead ban, banning steel because its not as effective?


    1. Jon - that's an attack on me, not the arguments. Have you read the PLOSone paper? Please give a critique of its science.


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