Saturday, 29 May 2010

Paper of the Week: Beware the Lead

Staunch supporters of game will find little to be pleased with the research published by Deborah Pain (of Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Gloucestershire) and colleagues, on Potential Hazard to Human Health from Exposure to Fragments of Lead Bullets and Shot in the Tissues of Game Animals in PLoS. The findings would also shock those who happily dig into the cooked game, seldom pondering about how much lead is ingested in the process.

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.

Pain DJ, Cromie RL, Newth J, Brown MJ, Crutcher E, Hardman P, Hurst L, Mateo R, Meharg AA, Moran AC, Raab A, Taggart MA, & Green RE (2010). Potential hazard to human health from exposure to fragments of lead bullets and shot in the tissues of game animals. PloS one, 5 (4) PMID: 20436670


Aniruddha H D said...

According to me, Lead was phased out long time ago for hunting purpose in Canada, since it not only contaminates the ducks, but the ones that are wasted fall on land/water and contaminate it as well. It is now against law to use lead-containing pellets.

Sarah Stephen said...

As far as I know, there aren't any existing limits in the UK (lead bullets/pellets/shots are widely used in centrefire/air rifles and shotguns), although it is quite likely that something fruitful might happen in the future.

The following links would provide insights (albeit from the hunters' perspective):

David said...

Worrying if only three woodocks a week can push you over the limit. My grandparents sometimes had pheasant, and we all did at Christmas time, usually with an acidic cranberry sauce, and certainly with wine or cider. But as you say, the greater risk is maybe to local predators such as foxes as I'm sure that many birds are not recovered, and the relative dose is much higher.


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