Recent government action on lead

Q: Who advises the government on contaminants in our food?
A: The Food Standards Agency (FSA). The FSA is an independent body offering impartial scientific advice on the food we eat.

Q: When the RSPB wrote to the government in 2008, what was the response?
A: The government indicated that it was not minded to impose further restrictions on the use of lead ammunition because it believed UK wildlife was not being adversely affected and that game consumption by humans was not high enough to be a health hazard.

Q: Were the RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust happy with this response?
A: No. They believed the government had not taken this seriously enough and so did their own studies of lead in game meat, and have continued to lobby Defra with the results of this work. Further, they began the process of phasing out lead on their own properties – switching to iron shot and copper bullets.

Lead ammunition

Q: How did the shooting organisations and game dealers respond?
A: They accepted that this is a serious matter that needs to be reviewed carefully in the UK context, but were not convinced that further restrictions on the use of lead in ammunition were justified and advised
Defra accordingly.

Q: Why did the government set up a Lead Ammunition Group (LAG)?
A: In 2010 Defra set up a Lead Ammunition Group to review the science alongside the other issues that
need to be taken into account, and make any recommendations.

Q: Who was involved?
A: The group was chaired by John Swift (BASC Chief Executive until 2013) and included representatives from the RSPB, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Countryside Alliance, Gun Trade Association, Game Dealers  Association and GWCT, as well as other professionals. On the government side, the Food Standards Agency and Defra were present.

Q: What were they trying to do?
A: Review the scientific evidence critically and agree a proportionate response, if any is needed, both in relation to human health and wildlife.

Q: Has the Food Standards Agency (FSA) done any more research?
A: Yes. It commissioned its own research, which was published in 2012. It advised that consumption of
game, like some other foods such as oily fish and tuna, should be limited. Those who eat game once a
week all through the year should reduce their intake.

Q: So did the LAG reach a different conclusion?
A: We do not know yet. The LAG report submitted to Defra has not been published.

Q: If it is a unanimous report, as requested by Defra, why has it not been published?
A: We don’t know why. However, we do know that members resigned from the group but were not replaced, so the report was not unanimous. This means the report falls outside the group’s terms of reference. This may be a significant factor.

Q: Why did some members of the group resign?
A: They were unhappy with the structure and workings of the group. As a result, there was a dispute over the evidence used and the process followed to produce it. Documents published after a Freedom of Information request supported the view that some members of the group were working to eliminate all risk rather than establish the risk and prepare a proportionate response.

Q: So Defra did not ask the group to remove all risk?
A: No. Had Defra wished to eliminate all risk there would have been no requirement to form a group to understand the level of risk and suggest any mitigation measures required.

Q: Is it possible to further reduce the health risk without a ban?
A: Yes. A large US study suggests that careful review of butchering practices and monitoring of meatpacking
processes may decrease lead exposure from wild game consumption.

Q: Has the UK signed a legally binding international agreement to ban the use of lead ammunition?
A: No. At a 2014 meeting of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) a guideline on preventing poisoning of migratory birds was produced. It did recommend the phase-out of lead ammunition, however no plans to do so have been approved in the UK.

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