This is Lead Week on this blog.
Three quarters of the grouse meat samples from Iceland Foods which I had tested would have been illegal if they had been found in other meat (though they were legal in game meat). A third of the samples had ten times the levels that would be legal in non-game meat.
One has to ask why the MRL (maximum residue level – the horizontal dotted line above) for lead in meat does not apply to meat which has lead shot into it, ie game meat?
Perhaps this is simply oversight or perhaps it was thought, a long time ago when the harmful impacts of lead on human health were less well known, and when it was possible to think that provided one removed pellets whilst preparing or eating game meat there would be little lead in it, that game meat wasn’t worth regulating because so few people eat much of it. Or perhaps the game lobby did lobby for it to be exempt. I’d love to know – can anyone tell us, please?
But we now know that eating game meat shot with lead ammunition will increase dietary lead levels in the average consumer. Frequent consumption of lead-shot game meat will increase levels by a lot. If you want to minimise your lead intake, you should not eat game shot with lead ammunition. The Food Standards Agency advice says that there is no agreed safe level of lead intake.
To regularise the current situation the government has several options. At present it is taking the option of doing nothing and sitting on the report of the Lead Ammunition Group which was asked to look at this issue.
Government could ban the use of lead ammunition. That would be the cleanest solution to health and conservation problems around lead. Other countries have done it and their shooters aren’t complaining about it. This is also what our government said it would do in Quito in 2014 as part of an international agreement. This is the option I think government should take, and if you agree then please sign Rob Sheldon’s e-petition to give Defra a nudge in the right direction.
Government could raise the MRL for other meats (although, as I understand it, not unilaterally as these are set in the EU). This would be a way of Defra pleasing its mates (Sorry! Its stakeholders) in the shooting industry. It would be a bizarre thing to do – to allow higher lead levels in all meat instead of regulating harmful high levels in game meat, but you never know. However, the lead levels in game meat are so high that even if the MRL were to be raised 100-fold in level, some samples of game meat would still fail, and fail spectacularly. Two of the 40 samples analysed in this study would still be illegal. If government did this then I would set up, with your help, random testing of lead levels in game meat on sale and publicise the results here. I don’t think government would be so foolish, but you never know…
Government could make labelling mandatory so that people could make an informed choice on what they buy – I suggested a form of words here yesterday. This would not address the conservation issues around lead use but it would begin to address the human health issues. It would also not address government’s promise to phase out lead ammunition in three years as part of an international agreement.
As far as human health is concerned, government could simply apply the existing MRL to game meat and then test game meat on sale in shops to ensure compliance. And yes, you and I could make spot checks in case government fell down on the testing regime as is too likely. This option would pretty much immediately remove lead-shot game from shops and game dealers (although legal compliance by the shooting industry to regulation on lead ammunition is notoriously poor). It would allow those who have access to lead-shot game to eat as much of it as they wanted, feed it to their kids and suffer the consequences but it would protect the rest of the population. It wouldn’t do anything to reduce the conservation impacts of lead ammunition.
But government does nothing. It hasn’t, after very nearly eight months, even published the report of the Lead Ammunition Group.