The BBC are going to feature a scheme which feeds game to the hungry and needy in the East of England this evening (19:30 broadcast).
I wonder whether they will ask questions about the lead levels in the game that is provided?
Will they point out that a major food provider, Fareshare, refused lead-shot game in any cases where that food was going to pregnant women or children?
Will they disclose that Waitrose has recently agreed to change its labelling of game meat shot with lead (change it in a way that is currently unclear) when it realised that suggesting that a game meal a week was against Food Standards Agency advice?
Will the BBC explore what mechanisms exist to ensure that lead-shot game does not go to pregant women and children in line with NHS England advice?
Will the BBC ask any questions about lead contamination of this meat at all?
To be fair, The Country Food Trust does now, after pressure from this blog and others, have a policy on lead in game meat. This is some sort of progress but the ‘scanning’ of food sounds pretty odd to me. If this is x-raying for intact or large lead shot fragments then the Country Food Trust is missing the point, and should know that it is. I note that the food still, correctly, is labelled ‘May contain lead shot’. I suspect that should be ‘Contains lead shot’ as we know, and the Country Food Trust must know, that tiny fragments of lead are distributed through the flesh of shot gamebirds.
Have a look at the graph below – showing the lead levels (after large shot fragments were removed) of grouse carcases with different numbers of largely intact lead shot particles.
These data come from 40 Red Grouse bought in Icleand shops in 2015 and then analysed at a laboratory – see here.
Note that although lead levels in the meat increase with number of lead shot which had been present, there is a lot of variation and the meat sample with the second highest lead level (note the logarithmic scale of the Y-axis too) was from a carcase which did not contain a lead shot (maybe half a dozen had gone straight through the bird and not lodged in the flesh/meat).
Have another look at that graph above and the EU Maximum Residue Level line (this does not apply to game meat). There aren’t many lead-shot game samples that end up below the line (it would be different for venison but not for small game – rabbits, grouse, partridge etc). I really do wonder what the Country Food Trust mean when they say that the lead levels were ‘well within the EU regulations for meat and vegetables’ – I think I’ll ask them.
The best thing that those selling or providing game meat could do is to insist that any meat supplied to them (donated or sold) is guaranteed to have been shot with non-toxic ammunition. This would, at a stroke, reduce the lead levels in the meat. Non-toxic ammunition is available for practically all guns – there is no excuse that the industry does not switch to non-toxic ammunition now (or indeed, a decade ago!).
Let’s see how the BBC programme deals with the quality of the food provided to the hungry and needy.