The report of the Lead Ammunition Group was submitted to Ministers on 3 June this year after more than five years of quite hard work by a group of varying expertise and scientific ability.
Defra has decided to put the report out to peer review to have it checked one more time and the final publication of the very detailed report and technical considerations may not occur until November or December. Most of the detail of the report will be too technical for most of us to get our heads around anyway.
However, the summary findings of the report are now available on the Lead Ammunition Group website as part of the correspondence between the group’s chair, John Swift (the former CEO of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation), and the Minister. These findings make an overwhelmingly strong case for doing what the UK has already said it will do as part of an international meeting in Quito last year – phase out the use of lead ammunition and replace it with non-toxic shot.
Lead is a highly toxic hazard and presents risk at all levels of exposure. It is especially dangerous as a neurotoxin for both young people and for wild animals.
Some 6,000 tonnes of lead from ammunition used in shotgun and rifle shooting are being discharged every year. At least 2,000 tonnes of shot used for game and pest shooting are irretrievably and unevenly deposited on or close to the soil surface where it is available for ingestion by birds. It probably becomes unavailable to them quite quickly, though it remains in the soil and substrates for a long time with as yet unknown consequences. Some 3,000 tonnes are deposited on clay target shooting grounds.
Lead from ammunition can (and does) get into wildlife by several routes, mainly by ingestion by many species of bird in mistake for grit or food items, or in scavenged dead animals, or as the prey of some raptors. In areas of intensive shooting lead is taken up by some plants and soil microfauna getting into the food chain, but the research studies that have been done on this latter route are limited.
Lead from ammunition causes harm to wildlife and certainly kills some birds. Numbers are hard to be certain about, but almost certainly at least tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands annually in UK. The welfare effects in these animals, and the larger numbers that ingest sub-lethal doses, are sufficient to cause illness and can be very severe and prolonged for them.
Lead shot and bullet fragments can be present in game meat at levels sufficient to cause significant health risks to children and adult consumers, depending on the amount of game they consume.
Almost certainly some 10,000 children are growing up in households where they could regularly be eating sufficient game shot with lead ammunition to cause them neurodevelopmental harm and other health impairments. Tens of thousands of adults are also exposed to additional lead by eating game as part of their normal diet, and this could cause a range of low level but harmful health effects, of which they will not be aware.
Current regulations restricting the use of lead shot in wetlands and for shooting wildfowl are apparently not achieving their aim and are insufficient for dealing with the wider risks because it is now known not to be just a wetland problem; and moreover, compliance with current regulations appears in any case to be low in England, as well as far from complete, as yet, in other countries along the flyways of wildfowl. Publicity has so far had little or no measurable effect on compliance with existing regulations.
For human health there is no evidence that existing advice from FSA and other stakeholders has so far reached target groups or affected game eating habits.
There is currently no evidence to suggest that the will, funding or resources exist, or are being planned, to develop measures that will ensure that game and venison containing lead levels above those permissible for red meat and poultry do not enter public markets as food.
For small game, no proposals have been made to the Group for any measure, short of lead shot replacement, that would ensure that small game entering the food chain do not have elevated lead concentrations.
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.
It is my view that it is simply time for the Defra ministers to tell the dinosaurs in the shooting industry to take a hike. Lead ammunition should be banned as soon as possible (by September 2017?) and non-toxic alternatives will have to be used. That is the future and any responsible politician should act swiftly to deliver that to us now.
More on this through the day.