What you think about lead in game meat

In yesterday’s Wild Justice newsletter we asked our over 40,000 subscribers (you can subscribe for free here https://wildjustice.org.uk/contact/ ) six simple questions about the results that we had published revealing the lead levels in game meat sold by Sainsbury’s. There had been 2773 responses in 24 hours and the results hadn’t changed much at all in 23.5 hours so we called it a day.

We’d like to thank the staff of pro-shooting organisations who attempted to get a surge of ‘Lead is fine, Sainsbury’s are great‘ responses to the survey but you made very little difference to the results.

Today we have published another blog, about lead in Waitrose’s game meat – there is too much, in our opinion, but we note that Waitrose is in a much better position than Sainsbury’s.

Here are the results from what you told us:

Q1 Did you learn something from reading about this study?

92% Yes

That’s good – we hoped you would!

Q2 Were you surprised at the high levels of lead in game meat on sale at Sainsbury’s?

62% Yes

Q3 Has your opinion of Sainsbury’s changed after reading about lead in the game meat they sell?

Down, 66%; No change, 30%

This ought to be uncomfortable reading for Sainsbury’s – at least 17,000 people have already read our newsletter and the actual total will grow over today and subsequent days and awareness will have swelled through spreading of the blog through social media and the report in today’s Times (p13). We think that this result is partly because Sainsbury’s sells high-lead game meat without health warnings but also because Sainsbury’s have not answered reasonable questions from their customers on the subject. That’s our guess at why you think this way about Sainsbury’s.

Q4 Which of these actions would you most like government to take?

Ban Pb ammunition, 60%; Apply same ML as for non-game meat, 24%; Mandatory health warnings, 9%

Most of you think that government should ban lead ammunition (and so do we) and your view is, we guess, influenced by the fact that lead ammunition has environmental impacts as well as health impacts. Very few people (6%, many of them clearly shooters from their comments) think that it is OK for government to do nothing. Will DEFRA stop dragging its feet on this issue?

Q5 Which of these actions would you most like supermarkets and other game sellers to take?

Ensure supplies are lead-free, 76%; Prominent health warnings, 17%

Most outlets which sell game meat, including Sainsbury’s, are in the small green sector which most people do not favour (those who do include quite a lot of shooters). To the best of our knowledge, only Waitrose occupies both the blue (they are moving in this direction) and yellow segments (they do this already) of this pie chart – that shows approval of Waitrose’s position and should be a signal to other retailers that they should catch up.

Q6 What action do you think should be taken by those who shoot game for the human food chain?

Supply lead-free game meat, 92%

Overwhelmingly, you think shooters should only supply lead-free meat to go into the human food chain. We agree.

Government received the report of the Lead Ammunition Group in 2015 which recommended the phasing out of lead ammunition – that came from an expert committee which spent five years reviewing the health and environmental evidence, and also noted that hunters in other countries had already switched to non-toxic shot. After sitting on the report (or operhaps carefully reading it over and over again) for a year DEFRA rejected the report in 2016. If they had acted then, the shocking findings we see now would be very different. This year, DEFRA have announced a 2-year review of lead ammunition to consider withdrawing it some time in the future. This is glacially slow progress on a straight forward health and environmental issue. Frankly, it’s foot-dragging of the worst possible kind.

Wild Justice believes that DEFRA (and the devolved administrations) should act more quickly in order to start delivering better environmental and health protection. Just get on with it!

In the continuing absence of government action then retailers should follow the example of Waitrose (and Waitrose must follow through on its promises) and supply lead-free game meat.

Here are some of the 1240 comments that were made on this survey. They are representative in that we took every 30th comment, whatever it said;

  1. The dangers of lead in natural habitats is well known. Warning customers of high lead levels in food will not solve this wider problem, a complete ban on lead shot is the only solution.
  2. It’s blindingly obvious that if you shoot with lead one will end up eating fragments of lead! Abundantly clear health warnings should self-regulate the demand for birds that are shot and slowly reduce the public demand and appetite. Shooting wild birds should be outlawed. We are in the 21st century!
  3. I’m amazed that lead in any form, least of all pellets, is allowed anywhere near the food chain, especially after so much work went into removing lead from water pipes, paint, toys etc.
  4. Steel shot in game will cause damage to teeth. Steel shot in timber will blunt saws
  5. I would much prefer them not to sell game at all. Get lead banned now. Very difficult to police in the field though, I would imagine
  6. spreading lead into the environment is wrong.
  7. Not good, obviously. But restrictions on levels for all meats can come now – in advance of banning. And non toxic ammunition, if introduced more widely, should be plastic free, including packaging.
  8. Game shooting for pleasure should be banned completely.
  9. I am appalled that lead shot is still being used in the country given that its toxological effects are well understood. Lead in petrol was banned more than 2 decades ago and in paint nearly three decades ago!! Please carry on campaigning for lead free meat. Thank you for all your good work.
  10. I am really surprised rules are so lax. I believe lead shot and weights for fishing were banned years ago?
  11. Many tv programmes are encouraging more game will be eaten. So more lead ingested. Lead was taken out of paint as it was so dangerous.
  12. Basically ban shooting of any wild animal including game. Lead contamination would not arise then. Become vegetarian.
  13. Lead weights were banned for fishing so same should apply here.
  14. eating the occasional pheasant is not going to do you any harm. why don’t you concentrate on sugar ?
  15. I think this is quite scary and I think we put a lot of faith into supermarkets to do the right thing by their customers, but this just shows that they really are only interested in profit!
  16. This is yet another disgraceful aspect of the game meat industry.
  17. I would like to say that I am surprised that governments (of whatever political party) have not taken action before on this issue, but I regret to say that I am not. Now that this information is publicly available I would like to think that the present government will take action – and that offending retail suppliers will take immediate, voluntary action themselves pending legislation that enforces action and imposes very strict sanctions.
  18. Appalling
  19. Hard to blame Sainsbury’s as they are not breaking any laws, all supermarkets are the same. This is a great study but need to be careful not to discourage supermarkets from selling game meat, it could be a good and sustainable market if some changes happened eg banning lead shot. We all need to be eating more deer for example. Great project though. Shows the weakness of our regulation yet again.
  20. Avoid eating game anyway as it helps to fund the “shooting for fun” people.
  21. All contamination of food should be banned
  22. I was surprised it spread in the meat
  23. Should be prosecuted for selling it
  24. What about the other supermarkets and ordinary butchers?
  25. Lead shot should be banned, it’s an environmental contaminant. Humans can choose to avoid these products once they know about the problem. Animals, cannot avoid it in the wide environment. It must kill individual birds, which are then eaten by other animals. It must affect cognitive ability and therefore survival chances, at lower levels.
  26. I wouldn’t buy game meat as I don’t approve of shooting any animal in the wild because of the risk of it suffering injury or a slow painful death. I’d rather we did not artificially breed pheasant and other game for shooting.
  27. Thank you for raising this issue, and acting on it!
  28. I am vegan
  29. ######### School, Lancaster in 2019 used pheasant shot with lead in their cookery classes without any warnings to children, because the pheasant was donated free by a gamekeeper parent. When confronted about this the headteacher was pretty unconcerned.
  30. Lead is toxic and should be banned outright. Would you feed your children food containing such high levels?
  31. Not happy about eating food contaminated with lead
  32. Lead is a very toxic substance to have in food and it was very worrying to learn that people who buy game are being exposed to a higher level than allowed in other meat. I don’t buy game but I’m glad you are exposing this.
  33. There’s still a lot of lead water pipes in old houses, can you test how safe the water is to drink?
  34. I was shocked to see just how many of the samples – 80% – contained lead. And even more shocked to find out that neither the shooters nor the supermarkets are legally obliged to point this out to consumers. I am also concerned about how much of this lead ammunition finds its way into our waterways and soils.
  35. No-one should be shooting game in the first place! It’s not a sport, it’s not a business, it’s cold blooded murder of innocent creatures!
  36. The UK government should introduce legislation for an outright ban on the use of lead shot.
  37. We no longer have lead used in pipework, roof flashing, paint and so forth because we know the detriment it has on health. Therefore, why on Earth is it justifiable let alone sensible to be eating it, especially unwittingly more often than not??!
  38. Please publish the levels found, not just that you found higher levels and which part of the country it was sourced rtom
  39. I have eaten pheasant many times & have sometimes found the tiny lead pellet inside. It never occurred to me that lead contamination would occur throughout the game & cause a health risk, so I would also like to see health warnings on packaging also saying how the game was killed.
  40. I’d rather it the wild birds than chicken that is intensely farmed. The lead in the bird can be removed.
  41. Lead contamination should be highlighted in public media more often. game shooting needs much stricter controls.
  42. There needs to be more media coverage of the realities of the lead content of game based good products, The relevant food safety authorities should be proactive about this.