DEFRA?s Lead Ammunition Group (LAG), formed to investigate impacts surrounding the use of lead shot and bullets in England, met for the first time last week on Monday, 26 April.
On the same day, a study by scientists at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the RSPB entitled Potential Hazard to Human Health from Exposure to Fragments of Lead Bullets and Shot in the Tissues of Game Animals was published.
The publication of the study ? and timing of its release ? has been interpreted by shooting industry insiders as a clear indication the two charities sitting on the LAG intend to argue the case for a wider ban on lead shot within the Lead Ammunition Group on the grounds that lead ingestion may be harmful to human health, not simply on environmental or animal health grounds.
The question has also been raised over the motivation behind two wildlife conservation charities publishing a human health study such as this – when neither has the provision of science relating to human health within its charitable objects.
The study, led by the WWT?s Debbie Pain, who also sits on the Lead Ammunition Group, was co-authored by the RSPB?s Prof Rhys Green as well as scientists from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate in Surrey and the Institute of Biological Environmental Sciences at the University of Aberdeen.
It investigated whether lead derived from spent gunshot and bullets in the tissues of game animals could pose a threat to human health.
Staff from the WWT bought shot pheasant, partridge, pigeon, grouse, woodcock and mallard from game dealers, shoots and supermarkets and X-rayed them to determine the number of shot and shot fragments present, then cooked them using a number of typical recipes.
Shot was then removed, to mimic a typical consumer?s behaviour, and lead concentrations determined.
According to the authors, a high proportion of samples from both surveys had lead concentrations exceeding the European Union maximum level for meat from bovine animals, sheep, pigs and poultry.
The study?s conclusion was that: ?The potential health hazard from lead ingested in the meat of game animals may be larger than previous risk assessments indicated, especially for vulnerable groups, such as children, and those consuming large amounts of game.?
Responding to the publication of the study, the Countryside Alliance?s Tim Bonner said: ?The lead shot issue is a totemic one for all shooters and DEFRA is clear that it has no current policy on lead shot, which is why it is up to the LAG to take a view. With this in mind, we are saddened but not surprised to learn that the RSPB and the WWT have published their research on the very day the inaugural meeting took place.?
He added: ?You might well ask why charities dedicated to wildlife and habitat conservation have suddenly become so interested in the health of people who eat game, and you may well come to the conclusion that it has less to do with concerns about our health than an agenda set firmly against lead shot. If incontrovertible and peer-reviewed UK evidence of relevant environmental and health problems were to emerge, we would of course all act responsibly in seeking the adoption of high quality non-toxic humane and affordable alternatives. That is not the same as claiming that levels of lead in game ?may? pose a risk when there is no evidence whatsoever of any negative health impacts on any of us who actually eat game.?
THE WWT & RSPB RESPOND
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the RSPB have investigated the wider effects of lead for a number of reasons.
Principally, the ingestion of lead gunshot is one of the most important causes of death of wildfowl across Europe and the world where this ammunition continues to be used.
Lead ammunition also affects terrestrial birds, and is known to present a particular threat to scavenging species, such as some birds of prey, which may consume carcasses of animals containing fragments of lead bullets or shot.
New evidence demonstrating the extent to which lead bullets fragment on entering an animal, and the low-level of compliance with legislation restricting the use of lead shot over wetlands in England, indicates that lead poisoning from ammunition sources continues to pose an unnecessary threat to wildlife and therefore merits continued investigation.
WWT has a duty of care to better understand the risks that lead ammunition may pose to human health as well as to wetland wildlife as it advises communities on the sustainable use and management of wetland resources in the UK and overseas.
In addition, and as a major landowner where the shooting of deer happens on some nature reserves, RSPB has a duty of care to ensure that any venison coming from its landholdings and entering the food chain does not present a risk to public health.
We have therefore decided to phase out the use of toxic lead ammunition across our landholdings.
RSPB and WWT have collaborated with other organisations on the study reported in PLOS earlier this week as a contribution to the wider discussion that is now taking place between government, shooting and conservation stakeholders as to the risks posed by the continued use of lead ammunition and the need for appropriate risk management measures.