Scientists occasionally produce consensus statements on issues. These are designed to be statements on what the science is and what it might mean. Here’s one on lead ammunition:
‘We, the undersigned, with scientific expertise in lead and human and/or environmental health, draw attention to the overwhelming scientific evidence, summarised below, on the toxic effects of lead on human and wildlife health. In light of this evidence, we support action in Europe to reduce and eventually eliminate the release of lead to the environment through the discharge of lead-based ammunition, in order to protect human and environmental health.‘
This statement is two and a half years old, which merely reinforces the urgent need for Defra to make up its mind on this issue – everyone else did years ago!
There are several things that struck me with this statement. First, the range of health evidence that it contains. Note the statement that ‘No ‘safe’ blood lead level in children has been identified below which negative health effects cannot be detected (CDC 2012). Absorption of lead leading to even slightly elevated levels injures the developing human brain and is associated with lasting effects on intelligence (IQ) and behaviour.‘.
Second, that the range of experts endorsing the elimination of the release of lead to the environment came from 10 European and one North American country – a pretty broad-based range of expertise.
Third, the range of health and toxicology experts who were involved alongside names that I found more familiar from environmental health scientists. I don’t think I can claim that some of my best friends are toxicologists so I had to look a few of them up. I notice that Prof Duffus has written several textbooks on toxicology and looks a pretty eminent sort of a guy. But perhaps even more striking was the name of Prof Alan Boobis. Boobis is not a name that meant anything to me but Prof Boobis is chair of the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) – an independent scientific committee that provides advice to the Food Standards Agency, the Department of Health and other Government Departments and Agencies on matters concerning the toxicity of chemicals. He was also chair of the EFSA Contam Panel which produced the European Food Safety Authority report on lead in food.
When Rory Stewart and Liz Truss survey the scene they look to one side and see the Shooting Times, Countryside Alliance, BASC and their supporters uttering statements like ‘I’ve never seen a duck with lead poisoning’, ‘Nobody ever died from lead poisoning’ etc and if they look the other way they find great tomes of scientific evidence and serried ranks of academics, non-British hunters and conservationists, pointing out that lead is a poison, it’s a real problem and that the solution is simple and that is to get rid of lead ammunition, as others have done, and use the non-toxic ammunition.
To one side they see vested interests and to the other side they see public servants, independent scientists and those with the public interest at heart.
To one side they see ignorance and to the other side they see clear science.
And yet they find it difficult to choose…
Defra’s continued delay in making a decision on this subject is scandalous. What is the point of having a government department that cannot make a decent fist of governing? What is the point of having ministers who fail to make decisions in the public interest? What is the point of Defra these days?
Give these laggards a prod by signing Rob Sheldon’s e-petition to ban toxic lead ammunition.