Is Lead-Shot Game Safe to Eat?

Here at the Wild Meat Company, we pay close attention to all research relating to the use of lead ammunition and are satisfied that our customers should not be concerned about eating game that has been shot with lead. Here’s why.

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 swans, 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 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. We trim heavily around the site of the bullet to remove any potential fragment of the tip so are confident the levels in our wild venison are even lower.

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.

Want to know more?

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