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Lead Ban Chronicles – U.K. Health Advisory Calls Out Health Risks Of Lead-shot Game Meat

October 11, 2012

I’ve been sort of sitting back and watching this develop over the last couple of weeks.  At the very least, it’s interesting, based on similar situations in the US.

Over in the UK, there’s been a bit of a furor over the release (and initial delays) of a food safety warning regarding game meat that was killed with lead ammunition.  The warning was to have been published a couple of weeks ago, but some members of the expert advisory panel argued that that the information was inconclusive and would create confusion.  The release was reviewed again, and despite continued debate, the decision was made to issue a public notice recommending that frequent consumers of lead-killed game meat should reduce their intake.  You can read the notice on the UK Food Standards Agency website.

Several years back, I reviewed some research conducted both in the UK and in Spain which demonstrated that, under certain conditions (such as highly acidic marinades), lead shot or bullet fragments could potentially become bioavailable… meaning that they could assume a form that we might absorb into our bodies.  These tests were conducted mainly on the meat of game birds, and no further testing was conducted to determine the actual risk to humans who consumed the meat.  As of the most recent information I can find, there have been no cases of human lead toxicity caused by the consumption of lead shot game meat. 

I’d hope that most of you are familiar with the work done by the CDC and the North Dakota departments of Health, Agriculture, and Game back in 2008.  That research studied individuals who consumed game meat, compared with those who didn’t, in order to determine if the study group showed elevated levels of lead in their blood.  The conclusions of the study showed that the lead levels did show some elevation, but the total amount, while notable, was far below the accepted safe levels. 

As a result, a mildly-worded warning was included in the hunting regulations for North Dakota (several other states have since added similar language) suggesting that the risk, however small, does exist… especially for developing children.  Because of this risk, pregnant or nursing mothers, as well as very young children, should avoid consumption of game meat that is likely to contain lead fragments or shot. 

Personally, I’m OK with this on most levels.  I do think the evidence is strong enough to justify a notification to the most vulnerable consumers.  People deserve the warning, just as they deserve to be warned that fish from a body of water may contain contaminants, or the chemicals used in their workplace may be carcinogens.  Beyond that notification, it becomes the decision of the individual whether or not they’re going to act on it or ignore it. 

I do understand that this sort of warning can contribute to the confusion surrounding the lead ammo issue, especially since most of us are pretty adamant that the continued use of lead ammo doesn’t present a human health risk.  I get that, without context, this warning makes lead ammo look “bad” to the public.  But both of these problems arise, not from concern about human health, but from the politicization of the issue. 

Just my thoughts… what are yours?

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