Lead Ammunition Group report likely to "point with complete certainty to the toxic nature of lead ammunition", according to communications with DEFRA

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Emails released recently by DEFRA under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act indicate that the Lead Ammunition Group chairman’s report will support a complete phase-out of lead shot in the UK.

The Lead Ammunition Group process was instigated, at the behest of the RSPB and Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, in 2009 to look into the key risks to wildlife and human health from lead ammunition. Its chairman, John Swift, the former chief executive of BASC, is expected to report to DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) imminently.

The group’s membership includes representatives of shooting organisations, the gun trade, landowners, gamedealers and conservation organisations. A number of the group’s recent email communications were made public on the gov.uk website at the end of January in response to an FOI request seeking correspondence between Lead Ammunition Group members and the government department. Though the emails have been redacted by DEFRA to comply with data protection laws, one email to the department, dated 28 October 2014, sent from a member of the Lead Ammunition Group (LAG)1 — thought to be John Swift — includes a number of statements that suggest the final report will recommend a complete lead shot ban. (Redactions are shown as […]).

“As you will know I am currently preparing for a restricted LAG meeting at FSA on Thursday which […] is attending. My objective there is to see whether and to what extent a consensus/common position might be achievable. Whatever emerges it remains my intention to complete […] report, which is now well advanced without further delay. I reckon that I have seen everything that needs to be seen, and listened to everything that needs to be heard — that on top of 40+ years of steering various groups around the lead minefields.

“If I had to give you the heads-up, it would be along the lines that the LAG process will point with complete certainty to the toxic nature of lead ammunition, qualified with equal certainty that precise effects and their extent can only be predicted with uncertainty. The conclusion to be drawn on all the evidence that I have so far seen is that lead ammunition is harmful for both wildlife and human health — it is not just a matter for wildfowl — and moreover that the alternatives are safe, effective and available at comparable cost.”

Speaking in response to the news, BASC chairman Alan Jarrett stressed that the association’s policy remained “no sound evidence, no change”. On 10 February, Mr Jarrett also sent a message to all BASC members stating that:

“BASC’s council has been shocked and angered by the unattributed email released by DEFRA under Freedom of Information rules, which suggests that the Lead Ammunition Group (LAG) could support a ban on lead ammunition.

“To the best of our knowledge no report has been seen or approved by the Lead Ammunition Group as a whole.  We do not believe it is in the gift of any one individual, or group of individuals, to overturn the group’s Terms of Reference which were set out by Government in 2010 and agreed to by a broad range of organisations.  It is inconceivable that BASC or other organisations would permit any circumvention of those Terms of Reference.

“BASC’s position on lead ammunition is very clear: “no sound evidence, no change”.  We have not seen any evidence to change that policy.

“Indeed, the Norwegian Parliament has just voted to repeal its law on the use of lead shot for live quarry hunting outside wetlands.  Reasons for the repeal included the absence of new evidence on lead shot and the misinterpretation of evidence by those advocating the ban.

“At BASC our arguments are backed by solid, scientific evidence and we refuse to countenance any decisions proposed by policy-makers, regulators or others that are not soundly evidence-based.

“Policy cannot be based on speculation, bias, prejudice or unfounded claims and must be consistent with the principles of better regulation, set out under the last Labour government and built on by the current government.

“And as we provide clear evidence to support our case we will expect those who seek to restrict any aspect of shooting to do the same. They must back their claims with hard conclusive evidence. Anything other will be robustly resisted and challenged on the basis of evidence and science.

“I also take this opportunity to confirm that John Swift, Chairman of the LAG is not employed by BASC, nor is he a member.”

Tim Bonner, director of campaigns for the Countryside Alliance, said: “The LAG has now been considering evidence for over five years and we have been concerned about the process for some time. This email seems to confirm that it has broken down. LAG was set up to consider the issues as a group, but the correspondence suggests that it is not now working towards that end. This is far too important an issue to be decided on the basis of a contentious report.”

To see the emails released under the FOI request in full, visit http://po.st/LAGFOI.