A conversation about lead levels

I was talking to a young-ish woman a while back (I’d guess she was in her 30s) in a social context and the subject of game meat came up, pretty much by chance. Now I don’t know this woman well, it was the first time we’d met, and we may never meet again, but I’m pretty sure she is a Guardian reader from the rest of our conversation.

She said something along the lines of ‘Of course, game meat is very healthy’ and I said something along the lines ‘Yes it is, apart of course from the fact that it is loaded with lead’. And she looked puzzled – and slightly alarmed.

So I told her about how lead ammunition shatters as it passes through the flesh of the shot bird or mammal and tiny fragments are distributed through the carcase – far smaller than the already small lead pellets.

I also told her that the advice from NHS England was for pregnant women (and toddlers) to avoid eating game meat shot with lead on health grounds. She looked, for a moment, completely shocked.

It’s best to avoid eating game that has been shot with lead pellets while you’re pregnant, as it may contain higher levels of lead. Venison and other large game sold in supermarkets is usually farmed and contains no or very low levels of lead. If you’re not sure whether a product may contain lead shot, ask a retailer.


When the game shooting industry promote game as a healthy food they don’t give this health warning. When most supermarkets sell game on their shelves they don’t give this health warning.

I have wondered several times whether I was right about the look of shock that went across this woman’s face. Is she a mother? I have no idea. Has she fed game meat to her kids? I have no idea. Is she now regretting it? I have no idea.

But it’s very clear that no-one in government, in retail and certainly not in the industry that profits from game shooting, is doing enough to get these messages out there.

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24 Replies to “A conversation about lead levels”

  1. This is total scaremongering Mark. How many products are pregnant women told avoid ??? Well to help you here is a list from the NHS...


    My entire family eats shot game, that includes my 3 year old and 10 year old. Pregnant women need to very careful in a lot of life choices so to use this to further push tour anti-shooting agenda is low.

    1. And clearly you are the very model of mental stability, not the sort that gets defensive or touchy on the internet over comments that don't even mention you. Yes, indeed.

    2. The point Mark is making is that there is very little information about lead in lead shot game. Many women are simply not aware of the possibility of lead in shot game and the detrimental effects an accumulative neurotoxin can have, especially in the developing foetus, baby and child. Lead passes the blood brain barrier and can last for years. There is no safe level of lead.

      So, women must be made aware to make their choice, be it lead or a slice of brie.

      Awareness is vital to make personal choice.

      It is not scaremongering.

      From a conclusion from a scientific paper:

      Thus, once an elevated blood lead concentration has been detected, it is too late to prevent lead's deleterious effects on the developing brain. This fact, plus the very low blood lead levels established to negatively impact development, indicate that the only way to prevent childhood lead poisoning is to prevent lead from ever getting into children's bodies.

  2. A local butcher told us, unprompted, that the rabbit for sale had been ferret-caught, not shot. The information is out there if suppliers are interested in getting it.

  3. Hi Mark, apologies, I didn't see the NHS, link in the OP! my bad!

    The point I'm trying to make is there are lots of foods that pregnant women should avoid that dont necessarily have the warning on the packages or which government or supermarkets actively campaign to make people aware. Also, there are lots of potentially harmful ingredients in lots of everyday foods/drinks which if eaten to excess could cause harm. With lead, very large quantities would need to be ingested to cause harm and it is apprent that is why shot game is still sold and lead shot is not banned for the purposes of killing food for human consumption.

    1. S - apology accepted. It’s quite easy for us to eat game without lead in it if only recreational shooters would do what, for example Forestry England and RSPB have done, and switch to non-toxic ammunition (especially for culling deer where the venison enters human food chain. If non-toxic ammunition were used then this issue would disappear. You can’t persuade the world that it isn’t a health issue because health experts say it is - so UK shooters just look selfish and stubborn when they dig their heels in. It’s incredibly bad PR and very foolish.

    2. There is no safe lower limit for lead. It is not correct to say " large quantities would need to be ingested to cause harm". The science is out there - it's just that game meat has escaped the legislation.

  4. Hi Mark, get ready for this.... I'm tending to agree with you on this in some part after reading more on the subject, including the updated LAG report. I will caveat that in general the risks are low unless a lot of lead-shot game is consumed but the risk remains. For those like myself who during the winter months try my best to eat as much self-harvested meet as possible this is something I must consider more seriously. I for one will certainly look to use less lead ammunition for my shotgun shooting and explore non-lead ammunition for when I hunt deer for the table.

    Never have it said I'm against everything you say! 🙂

  5. The lead ammunition group will tell you all about the effects of lead shot game birds.

  6. I'm an enthusiastic meat eater but I've given up eating game because of the lead issue - why take the risk. It's very frustrating. It would be such an easy win for the shooting industry to agree to a ban on lead and then rightly promote responsibly sourced game as really healthy food. But I think there's a lot of shooters out there who just don't like to be told what to do!

    1. We had all the moans about the 'nanny state' and 'not wanting to be told what to do' over the issue of car seat belts. Now we accept their benefits without question and most of us obey the law willingly. The shooting community has an ideal opportunity for positive publicity by outlawing lead shot. They should not let the dinosaurs stand in the way.

  7. I just skimmed a report https://cot.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/cot/cotstatlead.pdf that makes quite interesting reading. Pregnant Gaianurd readers should avoid all foods, it seems, and then refrain from feeding their infants anything designed for infants, and prevent them from eating soil, like children like to do. This mirrors similar findings from the FDA. I never did like rusks, anyway

  8. Your blog only goes to show your anti shooting agenda / mission . If you are concerned about the health risk to humans why don’t you mention the over use of antibiotics in factory farmed animals which is now considered to be a threat to human health . Perhaps you should become a vegan like your mate Chris Packham ?

    1. Karen A - why don't you try and deliver world peace instead of commenting on this blog? There's always something else to do but that really doesn't devalue what people are doing to try to improve the world.

      I've glanced back through your comments and you simply keep repeating that I am anti shooting. When I explain my position on shooting you have a little rest and then come back and tell me that I am anti-shooting. This is like a conversation with a deaf person who has their fingers in their ears and is shouting so that they couldn't hear anything anyway. Thank you for your comments.

  9. Are you insinuating that I am not entitled to comment on your blog as I would have thought you believe in freedom of speech especially when you make your thoughts known on politicians . I don’t shoot but all of WJ’s campaigns / court cases so far have been related to shooting whatever way you look at it.

    It will be interesting to see whether you supporters continue to back you ( financially with donations) when you lose a court case ...

    1. Karen A - you're very dull. I thought I might be being unkind to you, but I've checked all your comments and they are dull and nasty all at once.

      All WJ's campaigns/court cases? How many have there been then? errr...one?

  10. Well that’s your opinion and I could say the same about you . Do you actually live in the country ?

    1. Karen A - do you actually exist? Does it matter whether I live in the country?

      I live in a small rural town and I can see fields from my house - does that count? And much of my life, growing up and adult, there has been a field at the bottom of the garden or just around the corner. But does it matter?

      Where do you live? What is your age and gender? How do you make a living? Which newspaper do you read? Actually, I don't care what your answers are to those questions.

  11. And here we go again with the utterly redundant "country" argument. Just who do these half-wits think they're kidding?

  12. I am not a half wit ( this sums up Wj’s supporters ) so continue with your crusade ...

  13. I'm sorry, I totally retract my previous comment. It's obvious that you've a long way to go before you achieve such lofty heights.


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