Country groups dismiss as "guesswork" WWT and RSPV claims that consuming game shot with lead ammunition could be compromising the intelligence of thousands of children

Countryside organisations have hit back at claims that eating game meat can lower a child’s IQ level.

The claims relating to the negative impact of lead consumption on human health were made in a recently published report detailing the findings of last year’s Oxford Lead Symposium.

The section, Risks of health effects to humans in the UK from ammunition-derived lead, states: “We estimate that thousands of children in the UK per year (probably in the range 4,000-48,000) could be at potential risk of incurring a one point reduction in IQ or more as a result of current levels of exposure to ammunition-derived dietary lead. Numbers of adults at potential risk of incurring critical health effects appear to be smaller.”

It also posits: “Ammunition-derived lead, especially from gamebird meat, is the predominant and significant cause of exposure to dietary lead in the small proportion of the UK population who eat gamebird meat frequently. It is estimated that at least thousands and possibly tens of thousands of young children are currently consuming sufficient game to potentially risk health effects in the UK.”

Despite human health issues not falling under the remit of their respective charities, this section of the report was authored by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust director of conservation Dr Deborah Pain and RSPB Professor Rhys Green. Both are among the remaining members of the Lead Ammunition Group, which has been criticised by former members for holding a perceived anti-lead bias.

A knee-jerk reaction

In response to the report, RSPB Scotland director Stuart Housden wrote on social media:

“Calls for a ban on lead ammunition are a disproportionate and knee-jerk reaction to the current debate”

“Game is up for lead, huge impacts on wildfowl, raptors & risks to human health from those who consume ‘game’ meat”. But far from the game being up, shooting groups have refuted the claims. BASC director of communications Christopher Graffius said: “These figures are extrapolations based on theoretical assumptions, which fail to take account of the way in which game is processed. “Research in Sweden demonstrates that the risks from lead shot in small game can be virtually eliminated by cutting out wound channels and bruised meat. Research conducted by BASC shows that those who eat most game are more likely to process it in this way.”

Jack Knott, of the Countryside Alliance, commented: “The statistics exclude some key scientific studies and the figures of 4,000-48,000 children being at risk is based on nothing more than guesswork. We are disappointed that the BBC (which widely reported the claims) chose to run with a story based on such outdated and vague science.”

Mr Knott continued: “There is a health risk from consuming lead in game meat, hence the FSA guidance on the matter. However, there are mitigation measures still to be tested and research continues into the bio-accessibility of lead in wild game getting into the bloodstream. Calls for a ban on lead ammunition are a disproportionate and knee-jerk reaction to the current debate.”