One hundred years ago this week the American ornithologist Alexander Wetmore published a paper reporting numerous incidents of wild waterfowl dying after swallowing lead gunshot, mistaking it for grit which they eat to aid digestion. He concluded that lead poisoning due to eating gunshot was a common occurrence and a “dangerous and usually fatal malady”.
On the same day in 1786, Benjamin Franklin wrote on lead poisoning in humans that “the Opinion of this mischievous Effect from Lead, is at least above Sixty Years old; and you will observe with Concern how long a useful Truth may be known, and exist, before it is generally receiv’d and practis’d on”.
Yet annually, ingestion of spent gunshot still kills an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 waterfowl in the UK. Predatory and scavenging birds are also affected by eating lead ammunition fragments in the flesh of their prey.
Lead is a potent neurotoxin and presents health risks to people who eat game shot with lead ammunition frequently – especially children and pregnant women. The Food Standards Agency has highlighted the risks.
Alternative non-toxic gunshot is available, effective and comparably priced. Indeed, legislation has required its use in Denmark since 1996. How much longer will it take for UK policymakers to catch up?
Professor Alan R Boobis
Des Browne Labour, House of Lords
Dr Ruth Cromie
Professor Rhys E Green
Professor John Krebs Crossbencher, House of Lords
Professor Ian Newton
Dr Deborah Pain
Professor Christopher Perrins