GWCT comes clean on lead

The move by Waitrose to require its game suppliers to supply game meat that has not been shot with lead ammunition from the 2020/21 shooting season is likely to have considerable knock-on impacts.

The GWCT is the leading scientific authority used by the shooting industry and, for example, restaurants that sell game.

For example, when I contacted Rules Restaurant about lead levels in the game they sell in their expensive London restaurant more than four years ago they, bizarrely, referred me to the GWCT for the science of lead in game meat. I didn’t get any sense out of the GWCT.

I’ve found over the years that I am often referred to the GWCT website by shooting types to check out what the facts are about lead in meat (and I wasn’t impressed by the spin that GWCT put on the facts). I also wasn’t impressed by the fact that the GWCT then Chair, Ian Coghill, walked out of the Lead Ammunition Group when he may have sensed that the group was following the science rather than following what he wanted the answer to be.

And let’s be fair, the GWCT’s words on lead were some of the most readable and clear – it’s just a pity that they weren’t wholly accurate (in my humble opinion). I do wonder whether the inaccurate labels that Waitrose used on game meat in their supermarkets last winter might just have been based on their reading of the GWCT website.

So I was interested when the lead section of the GWCT website disappeared for about a month some time in July (I think it was July not June) and even more interested that it has, in these post-Waitrose announcement days, reappeared.

Here are some comparisons between the old (RED) advice from GWCT and the current (BLUE) version. They are interestingly different.

Q: What does the FSA think about eating game?
A: FSA advice is that “frequent consumers of lead-shot game should eat less of this type of meat”

What is the FSA’s advice on eating lead-shot game?
“Consuming lead is harmful; health experts advise to minimise lead consumption as much as possible. Anyone who eats lead-shot game should be aware of the risks posed by consuming large amounts of lead, especially children and pregnant women”.
“To minimise your risk of lead intake, if you frequently eat lead-shot game meat, particularly small game, you should cut down your consumption. Exposure to lead can harm the developing brain and nervous system. So, cutting down the amount of lead-shot game eaten is especially important for toddlers, children, pregnant women and women trying for a baby”.
Has the FSA given advice on the number of portions of game that should be eaten?
No, but they do say “There is no agreed safe level for lead intake. Independent scientific expert groups across the European Union advise that exposure to lead should be reduced as far as possible”.

Q: So how do I know if I am a frequent consumer?
A: We contacted the FSA to clarify this. It suggests that, as a rough guide, individuals who consume “more than a few items a month” should reduce consumption.

So how do I know if I am a frequent consumer of lead-shot game?
We contacted the FSA to clarify this. They stated that “The levels of lead in game are very variable so that the people who consume the largest quantity of game shot with lead ammunition may not have the highest lead exposure. Because of this, the FSA has not given advice in terms of only consuming a certain number of game portions as it could be misleading. However, broadly, lead exposure and the risk of adverse effects associated with lead is likely to increase as game consumption increases. Therefore, individuals who consume a lot of game (more than a few times a month as a rough guide) should reduce consumption, particularly of small game or game birds killed with lead shot. This is particularly important for children and pregnant women because of the risk to the developing nervous system even at very low levels of lead exposure.”
The term “high consumer” of game meat and offal used by EFSA (2010) described adults with a mean frequency of consumption of game meat of one 200g game meat meal per week, averaged over a year.

Q: Is this the same for everyone?
A: This advice is especially important for vulnerable groups such as toddlers and children, pregnant women, and women trying for a baby, as exposure to lead can harm the developing brain and nervous system.

Is the FSA advice the same for everyone?
No. Toddlers, children, pregnant women and women trying for a baby should avoid eating lead-shot game because exposure to lead can harm the developing brain and nervous system.

Q: Is lead toxic?
A: Yes. Along with some other common metals such as copper, aluminium and silver, lead is toxic. Other metals we are exposed to such as cadmium, deposited in the environment by agricultural and mining processes, have similar toxicity to lead.

Is lead toxic?
Lead is toxic and has a threshold tolerance of zero which means it is not possible to set a level of intake below which no health impacts would be expected for either wildlife or humans.

That’s much better. Much , much better. Indeed the whole layout of the advice is much clearer.

I wonder what prompted this new version. Perhaps the Food Standards Agency has revamped its advice and GWCT are promptly responding to that? No, they haven’t. The FSA advice has been the same since 2012. So the differences highlighted above are GWCT’s two different versions of the same advice from the same body. I think of them as the highly-spun and the less highly-spun. The first version I would give 3/10 for getting the facts across accurately and the current version a creditable 7/10 – there is still room for improvement, but for some reason things have got a lot better suddenly.

I can’t see this change having been possible under Ian Coghill’s reign so maybe we need to thank the new GWCT Chair, Sir James Paice? Or maybe Teresa Dent (Natural England Board member) experienced a Damascene conversion. Or might it be that GWCT felt they couldn’t maintain their highly-spun position after Waitrose made its move?

I’m pleased to see the changes but the GWCT don’t deserve any particular credit for coming clean after so many years of being dirty, in my opinion.

But I may join those people who refer others to the GWCT advice on lead from now on.

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8 Replies to “GWCT comes clean on lead”

  1. Just in time. SNH is due to start poisoning the rest of Scotland,

      1. They are if they are not doing stringent follow up checks. Shooters are like toddlers who break the rules just for the sake of breaking the rules. They have not earned the right to be trusted on that.

  2. It’s a little worrying when you start thinking on the numbers shot. If we say half of this total, ie 30 million birds only, are shot using lead, and as a very modest estimate the cartridges used contain only 1oz of lead, that then is 30 million ounces of lead expended. Of course this doesn’t include cartridges expended which do not produce a bird, ie a miss. So, 30 million ounces of lead is 937.5 tons of lead fired. But if we say that cartridge:kill ratio is 2:1- which is almost certainly an underestimate- then the tonnage of lead fired into the air is 1875 tons. And this is only for ‘game’ shooting and does not include pigeons, crows, rabbits, hares, RAVENS,HEN HARRIERS, PEREGRINES,GOLDEN EAGLES etc etc etc!! I await BAS(c) & co to tell me that non-toxic shot is what all their members use which doesn’t explain why the empty PLASTIC cases I am forever picking up around the pools near my home contained lead shot AND plaswads.

    1. Bill - it's about a third that are shot, almost all with lead. The Lead Ammunition Group have figures for total lead put into the environment. Google Lead Ammunition Group.

      1. Hi Mark, thanks for that, I'll take a look. When considering all this we need to remember that skill in killing cleanly with one shot is not held by all who shoot and I've watched people emptying both barrels for every bird passing over them but without bringing anything down. Of course, they almost certainly wounded a good many...and that opens another can of worms!

    2. Interesting observation Bill, I have read somewhere recently that most "reputable" shoots, whatever that means, have banished the plastic shot cup/wad. Certainly round here in mid Wales one is constantly finding discarded plastic cartridge cases and plastic shot cups.

  3. I wonder, if my hobby involved throwing handfuls of lead pellets around the countryside every weekend- strange you might think but hey, it get’s me out of the house- might I be guilty of breaking any environmental pollution laws?


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