Consuming the meat of animals that have been hunted using lead bullets is more dangerous for human health than previously thought. A team of scientists from the Spanish Research Institute have shown the amount of lead present in cooked animal meat can be dangerous for children and adults.
Rafel Mateo, co-author of the study states that “Depending on the species and type of recipe used, between 20 and 87.5% of the samples analyzed exceeded the maximum level of lead set by the EU in meat from livestock animals of 100 parts per billion (0.1 mg/kg of fresh weight meat)”.
Six species of game birds shot by hunters in the UK were anyalyzed – red partridge, pheasant, wood pigeon, grouse, woodcock and mallard. Mateo points out ” In Spain and other countries hunting is done in the same way and using the same ammunition, meaning that the issue with this type of contamination in meat is the same across the board”
Pieces of the hunted game were x-rayed to detect the presence of pellets and fragments from lead. The pellets were cooked with the meat and then removed as would be done normally. Then the concentration of lead was measured using atomic absorption spectroscopy.
“Although the levels set by the EU are for meat that is consumed more frequently than game, in species like the woodcock, 5.4% of the birds cooked displayed more than 10 mg/kg, which indicates that by eating 200g of this meat on a single occasion, the tolerable weekly intake of lead for a person weighing 80g could be exceeded,” the researcher highlights. Mateo goes on to explain that in the metallic form, lead is not easily absorbed by the intestines, however, when cooked, especially with vinegar, lead can reach the blood more easily through the digestive system.
“In big game hunting, and contrary to what is believed, the lead bullets also fragment,” explains Mateo, who, with his team, has confirmed the presence of high concentrations of lead in samples of deer and wild boar from Sierra Madrona (Ciudad Real): “Mining sites in the region can influence the results, but they alone do not explain the extremely high levels detected in some samples.”
Alternatives to lead ammunition do exist – pellets made from tungsten or bismuth as well as alloys with metals or plastics are available for smaller game. For larger game, copper bullets have been introduced as a replacement for lead. Copper does not fragment as much as lead, nor is it as toxic.