The use of lead shot has come under fire after the Food Standards Agency (FSA) released its latest research figures into toxins found in food. The FSA survey aimed to investigate the concentrations of eight metals and other elements found in a variety of cultivated and wild-grown foods. The FSA hopes to use the results of the survey to allow accurate and detailed estimates to be made concerning the amount of metals and other elements consumers are exposed to in the food they eat.

A total of 310 samples of a variety of foods were analysed for aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, manganese and zinc. As well as 120 samples of root vegetables, 50 samples of mushrooms and 35 samples of dried fruits, 25 samples of deer and pheasant were taken from a range of UK retail outlets.

The survey reveals that the estimated dietary exposure to metals and other elements measured does not pose a significant risk to consumer safety. Despite this, game meat fell short of required standards when it came to levels of lead within the meat. Visible and invisible shot particles contributed a mean concentration of 0.23mg/kg and a maximum value of 1.63mg/kg in samples of pheasant. As a result, the FSA has written to suppliers encouraging the use of non-toxic shot in an effort to lower the levels of lead present in meat.

Tim Bonner, spokesman for the CA, questioned whether the sample of game used was large enough for the FSA to make any conclusive recommendations. He told ST: ?We are concerned that the FSA is making suggestions like this on the basis of such a small sample. Nearly all the pheasants tested were below levels that were considered dangerous and we do not believe lead in game is a serious health issue. There is also the issue of the need for the Government to deal with issues such as lead shot on the basis of animal welfare and economic reality, as well as food safety. I?d like to know what DEFRA thinks of the FSA findings.?

Steve Crouch, from Hampshire Game, did not support the FSA?s recommendation to use more non-lead shot. He told ST: ?When talking to people who shoot with bismuth, tungsten and other substitutes, the feeling is generally the same: they aren?t as good as lead. Certainly, the carcases are bruised more heavily with bismuth and it doesn?t seem to kill as cleanly. It makes the carcases bleed, and you can tell the difference between duck we get in now and the duck we used to get in before bismuth.?

A spokesman from the FSA told ST: ?EC regulations set maximum levels for certain contaminants, including lead in foodstuff, and game meat is not included in these regulations. We have recommended that alternatives be used. However, due to the small quantities of game eaten and the low levels present, dietary exposure to lead from eating game does not pose a significant risk to consumer safety.?