Lead ammunition (pellets/bullets) is often used to shoot down game. To solve their research question, Pain and her colleagues bought wild-shot game birds (grouse, mallard, partridge, pheasant, pigeon, and woodcock) from supermarkets, game dealers, shoots, and butchers. After X-raying these to determine the number of shot and shot fragments present, these were cooked using typical recipes (in wine or cider or pH-neutral cream sauce). Mimicking the traditional game eating behaviour, the visible lead fragments were manually removed.
The lead concentrations in the remaining flesh were analysed. The results demonstrated that the game tissue is littered with small pieces of shot- most likely due to the ammunition disintegrating into smaller particles upon impact (and, in some cases, these fragments embed into the tissues even though the shot exits the body). Consequently, a higher level of consumption of some species may result in exceeding the current FAO/WHO’s weekly tolerable intake of lead. For instance, weekly consumption of three meals of woodcock and/or ten meals of grouse / partridge / pheasant would certainly take a 70 kilogram person over this threshold.
So does the consumption of game birds (shot with lead) pose a threat to humans? – The answer is very much an ‘yes’ although this depends on the amount of game consumed. As in most studies, the vulnerable population stands a good risk. And one mustn’t overlook the impact on the food chains/webs- fauna which consume these shot game birds are inevitably affected as well.