Following Alex Cunningham MP's recent blog "It's Time to Take Action on Lead Ammunition" the Countryside Alliance feels it necessary to respond with the scientific evidence.
The continued use of lead ammunition and the surrounding debate is certainly a contentious issue. However, no matter what your views on shooting are, or on lead in general, the debate should be focused on the science and not emotive arguments or the views of those at either extreme.
It is regrettable that Mr Cunningham seems to have listened to only one side, those who want a total ban on lead ammunition, without apparently being familiar with the science. He has also chosen to frame his article in the context of emotive references to Cecil the lion and by making arbitrary distinctions between people who shoot, implying that 'commercial shooting' is somehow less a part of rural life and a source of food than other shooting. It is hard not to see in these references and false distinctions the old class war instincts which should have no place in a discussion of lead ammunition.
The Alliance deplores wildlife crime whoever commits it, but what 'wildlife persecution' and heather burning have to do with the case for, or against, lead ammunition is unclear. Is Mr Cunningham making an evidence based case against lead or a case against shooting in general or just some types of shooting?
If Mr Cunningham is genuinely interested in sustainable land management and ecological benefits then the work of land managers and gamekeepers associated with shooting makes a vital contribution to conservation in the UK. We would like to invite Mr Cunningham to meet and talk to these people and see first-hand the incredible work they do in conserving and restoring our natural capital.
As for lead; the Countryside Alliance has said before, and will say again, the fact that lead is toxic is a matter of scientific fact. There are indeed studies in America that have shown links between the phasing out of lead in petrol and a drop in the number of aggressive crimes. However, the link between lead up-take in food from lead ammunition has been shown time and again to be low, mostly because the levels of lead are near minimal and the bio-accessibility compared to lead in petrol is a tiny percentage.
According to the latest European Food Standards Agency report (2010), lead from game meat represents less than 0.1% of the total dietary lead exposure. Compare this to cereals and potatoes which come in at over 40%. In fact, the average person gains more than 60 times more lead from beer than game meat.
There are those within the UK, however, who are eating sufficient amounts of wild game to be at potential risk (ie. eating a game portion twice a week or more), these people are also those most likely to handle their game responsibly, hence minimising any risk. The Food Standards Agency has advice about the eating of wild game on its website, which sits alongside a number of other foodstuffs that should be avoided by vulnerable groups.
To say that hundreds of thousands of wildfowl and game birds die of lead poisoning each year is nothing more than speculation. As the latest Defra records on British bird populations show, numbers of the majority of wildfowl species are on the rise in this country. Furthermore, all four parts of the UK have legislation restricting the use of lead ammunition over wetlands, to remove the risk to wildfowl. The Countryside Alliance fully supports this legislation and aims to see all the signatory parties to the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species implement the Convention to protect wildfowl from any potential risks from lead poisoning.
There are countries and areas that are in the process of banning lead, such as California where the Californian Condor is becoming increasingly close to extinction partly because of lead poisoning. Mitigation measures have so far failed and it is now becoming law for Californian hunters to use non-lead ammunition. However, does that give Labour the right to demand a ban on lead ammunition in the UK? No. First of all we don't believe a Californian Condor has ever ventured to the UK, and second our native scavengers, the buzzard and red kite, both contain lead levels well below the thresholds set by the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme, set up within the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology to monitor lead blood levels in raptors.
In fact Norway recently overturned a ban on lead ammunition, allowing the shooting of lead everywhere except clay pigeon grounds and over wetlands. What matters is risk management. The idea of a risk assessment is not to eliminate the risk but to reduce it to an acceptable level, and that is exactly what the Norwegians have successfully done. We are not saying that there is no danger of lead poisoning, there is a risk, but we have in our power the ability to manage that risk and reduce it to negligible through scientific studies, best practice and monitoring. There is no need for scare mongering or bans.
There is of course one observation made by Mr Cunningham of which we highly approve and that is the growing popularity of game meat thanks to its free-range lifestyle and the fact that game is high in protein and vitamins and extremely low in cholesterol. With the general public taking more interest in where its food comes from, wild game is both a sustainable and trustworthy source of meat.