Is Lead-Shot Game Safe to Eat?

Here at the Wild Meat Company, we pay close attention to research relating to the use of lead ammunition. To ensure the continued sustainability of the British game industry, we support the move away from lead ammunition,and require all our venison suppliers to use non-lead ammunition,but remain satisfied that our customers should not be concerned about eating game that has been shot with lead. Here’s why.

In February 2020, leading shooting and rural organisations issued a joint statement calling for a phased transition away from the use of lead shot. These organisations have said that, within five years, they wish to see an end to both lead and single-use plastics in ammunition in consideration of wildlife, the environment and to ensure a market for game at home and abroad.

We support these calls and are now actively encouraging all in the industry to move towards non-lead alternatives.Due to the availability and effectiveness of non-lead ammunition, we have been able to move to non-lead shot for deer but there is a delay in the transition of non-lead loads for smaller game due to the perceived lack of lethal alternatives.

However, we would like to reassure our customers that our support for a voluntary transition away from lead does not mean that we feel eating properly prepared game shot with lead ammunition poses a risk to human health.

The law on lead ammunition

In England and Wales, current legislation only places restrictions on the use of lead ammunition for shooting game:

a) on or over any area below the high-water mark;
b) on or over any site of special scientific interest;
c) For the shooting of ducks (as well as geese or coot, moorhen, golden plover and common snipe).

Lead ammunition is not allowed to be used for wildfowling because of concerns about waterfowl ingesting stray shot with the grit they swallow to aid digestion. The Wild Meat Company supports and fully complies with this legislation and stipulates that all our suppliers of wild duck must use only non-toxic shot. Our wild duck is most commonly shot with steel cartridges, but tungsten or bismuth shot are also less frequently used.

As well as fully complying with lead shot regulations, the Wild Meat Company actively encourages others in the game industry to do the same.

There are no restrictions in place regarding the use of lead ammunition for the other types of game we sell and many of our suppliers currently choose to shoot with lead shot. Lead has been used for hundreds of years and remains the preferred ammunition for shooters because of its density and ballistic superiority. It is the ammunition most of our suppliers’ guns are designed for, which is why they are calling for more conclusive evidence to be presented before they have to stop using them.

Does eating game shot with lead pose a risk to human health?

Defra and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) set up the Lead Ammunition Group (LAG) in 2010 to address this and other questions. Key stakeholders and experts were brought together to identify risks, explore possible solutions, and advise the government accordingly. A report was eventually presented to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) Secretary of State, Liz Truss, in 2016. Despite anti-lead calls in the report from some stakeholders, Liz Truss concluded that there were not grounds for banning leading ammunition, saying: “… the report did not show that the impacts of lead ammunition were significant enough to justify changing current policy”.

This echoes our view. This does not mean we are complacent, and our skilled butchers take care to remove visible lead from our products. We also reject any game that shows heavy shot damage. We believe that if you choose your game wisely and ensure it is properly prepared for cooking, healthy adults should have no concerns about eating game shot with lead.

As shooters, butchers, cooks and regular consumers of game, we know from experience that pellets or bullets usually remain in the internal organs, which we remove during processing, or pass straight through.

If you are concerned about eating game birds, however, guidance is available for eliminating lead from breast fillets. This BASC video provides a quick and easy guide.

Should children or pregnant women avoid lead-shot game?

The FSA currently advises that toddlers, children, pregnant women and women trying for a baby should minimise their consumption of lead-shot game. This is because of concerns that children who are growing are more likely to absorb lead than older children and adults.

Our own children, of course, have all eaten game from a young age with no ill effects. However, decisions about what to eat or feed your children are, of course, entirely your own, and we leave them up to you!

Do potential lead levels differ with different species?

A report published by the EFSA in 2012 found that the average levels of lead in wild venison were less than half the EU’s maximum regulatory levels. In 2023 we made the decision to no longer sell lead shot venison, it is all shot with other ammunition made from copper or other metals.

Our game mammals, such as hare and rabbit, which have been quickly and cleanly dispatched with a shot to a head should also contain very little if any lead, as should our squirrel, which has been killed instantly in a humane trap, rather than shot.  

Our aim is to eventually move to lead-free across all game meats, but small game shot with shotgun will take a little longer to achieve. 

Want to know more?

If you have any more questions about the safety of lead-shot game, feel free to contact us. Email or send us a message via our Facebook page.