Small but sig­nif­i­cant

De­spite the small sam­ple size, a new Ital­ian sci­en­tific study look­ing at blood lead lev­els in con­sumers of game meat has the po­ten­tial to turn ‘the lead de­bate’ on its head

Sporting Shooter - - Campaigning For The Countryside - WITH TIM BON­NER

Packed full of rhetoric, bold ac­cu­sa­tions and pre-de­ter­mined sci­ence, the de­bate sur­round­ing the con­tin­ued use of lead am­mu­ni­tion has been tainted for many years. It is, there­fore, pleas­ing to see a new sci­en­tific study that ex­am­ines the ac­cu­sa­tions, and looks at the link be­tween the con­sump­tion of game shot with lead am­mu­ni­tion and the level of lead in peo­ple’s blood.

Not ev­ery­thing in this new study is straight­for­ward for those of us who shoot, but it does set out to an­swer some well-bal­anced ques­tions, while ac­knowl­edg­ing the lim­i­ta­tions within the study and the miss­ing gaps of in­for­ma­tion that ex­ist.

The aim of the study, ti­tled ‘Blood lead lev­els fol­low­ing con­sump­tion of game meat in Italy’, was to mea­sure and com­pare the blood lead lev­els in con­sumers and non-con­sumers of game meat, tak­ing into ac­count other pos­si­ble sources of lead ex­po­sure. A blood sam­ple was ob­tained from 95 peo­ple in to­tal, and a ques­tion­naire was used to collect gen­eral in­for­ma­tion and data on game meat con­sump­tion, hunt­ing, wine drink­ing and other pos­si­ble sources of lead ex­po­sure.

The re­sults showed that blood lead level was not in­flu­enced by age, sex, res­i­dence in an ur­ban or ru­ral area, con­sump­tion of game meat, to­bacco smok­ing, or hob­bies as­so­ci­ated with po­ten­tial ex­po­sure to lead.

A more com­plex mul­ti­ple lin­ear re­gres­sion model found blood lead level hav­ing an as­so­ci­a­tion with hunt­ing and wine drink­ing, but still not with con­sump­tion of game meat or other pa­ram­e­ters.

In lay­man’s terms, the model showed that when the ef­fects of all the recorded vari­ables were ac­counted for, the ac­tiv­ity of hunt­ing caused the blood lead level to be ap­prox­i­mately dou­ble that of non-hun­ters, and 40% higher in wine drinkers com­pared with non-wine drinkers.

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies look­ing at the link be­tween hu­man health and lead am­mu­ni­tion have fo­cused on the hy­po­thet­i­cal level of avail­able lead ca­pa­ble of en­ter­ing the blood­stream from the recorded lev­els of lead in game­birds. The the­ory be­ing that high quan­ti­ties of lead in game­birds will end up rais­ing the blood lead lev­els in high-level con­sumers. This hy­poth­e­sis is not sup­ported by the find­ings of the new re­search.

In­stead, the in­trigu­ing ques­tion raised by this study is whether links be­tween game con­sump­tion and blood lead lev­els found by pre­vi­ous stud­ies were, in­stead, ac­tu­ally links be­tween ex­po­sure to lead am­mu­ni­tion and its use by hun­ters.

The new re­search raises that ques­tion, but does not an­swer it. Its au­thors con­clude that al­though the re­sults were of in­ter­est, the small sam­ple size re­stricted its im­por­tance and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween hunt­ing and blood lead level could not be linked to ei­ther in­hala­tion of lead fumes while shoot­ing with lead am­mu­ni­tion and/ or the han­dling of lead am­mu­ni­tion.

Other stud­ies us­ing the Ital­ians’ method­ol­ogy have shown sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences within blood lead lev­els for con­sumers and non-con­sumers of wild game.

How­ever, the in­flu­ence of the other recorded vari­ables such as hunt­ing, wine con­sump­tion, to­bacco smok­ing and age, have in these stud­ies shown vary­ing de­grees of sig­nif­i­cance, leav­ing the de­fin­i­tive an­swer of their im­por­tance miss­ing.

Al­though there were nu­mer­ous fail­ings of process and logic in the Lead Am­mu­ni­tion Group (LAG) re­port, which caused it to be re­jected by the gov­ern­ment, the con­clu­sion from the hu­man health risk assess­ment can­not be com­pletely re­jected. It stated: “The con­sump­tion of meat from wild game an­i­mals killed us­ing lead am­mu­ni­tion poses risks to some high-level con­sumers of wild game.”

Risk, in this in­stance, is on the same scale as overindulging on red meat or shell­fish, not eat­ing your five-a-day, or even drink­ing wine (which also con­tains sig­nif­i­cant lev­els of lead). What the risk level is and where the risk is com­ing from re­mains com­pletely un­known.

The LAG also noted that “the hu­man health risk assess­ment is based mainly on cal­cu­la­tions us­ing mea­sured lev­els of con­tam­i­na­tion with am­mu­ni­tion-de­rived lead and ab­so­lute bioavail­abil­ity es­ti­mates of lead from game­birds killed us­ing lead shot”. In­deed, the Food Stan­dards Agency’s ad­vice to high game con­sumers comes on the back of these cal­cu­la­tions, com­pleted by the RSPB and WWT. But does this new re­search sug­gest that they have over­es­ti­mated the im­pact of the lead am­mu­ni­tion found in game­birds on those who eat them?

Whether the an­swer is yes or no, the Ital­ian study high­lights the ne­ces­sity for fur­ther re­search into the use of lead am­mu­ni­tion, so the full pic­ture can be re­vealed. This is re­search that needs to be com­pleted be­fore any fur­ther re­stric­tions on the use of lead am­mu­ni­tion can even be con­sid­ered.

The new study found that blood lead lev­els were not in­flu­enced by con­sump­tion of game meat

Fur­ther re­search is needed into the use of lead am­mu­ni­tion

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