Lead ammunition results in higher lead concentrations in game meat

If roe deer or other hoofed game is shot with lead ammunition, the meat contains more lead than the meat of game animals shot with unleaded ammunition. The higher lead levels are not only to be found in the vicinity of the bullet channel in the breast but also in more distant cuts of meat, such as the saddle and haunch. These are the first results of the analysis of numerous samples from various regions of Germany which were examined in the project "Food Safety of Game Obtained through Hunting" which was sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) and coordinated by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). "These first data collected with scientific methods show that leaded ammunition is the primary input source of lead in game meat, whereas input via grazing is of lesser importance. With a view towards protecting children and women of childbearing age in households with a high game consumption, which usually includes hunters and their families, the results confirm our recommendation only to eat the meat of game animals shot with unleaded ammunition," as BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel explained to the 300 participants in the symposium "Alle(s) Wild? - State of scientific knowledge of the behaviour of unleaded ammunition in hunting and the contamination of game meat obtained through hunting with the ammunition components lead, copper and zinc". Game meat is a naturally obtained, high-quality food. If game is only eaten once or twice a year, as is customary among the general population in Germany, there is no increased health risk through the intake of lead from the meat of game animals shot with lead ammunition, Hensel added. In addition to the intake of lead in game meat through hunting ammunition containing lead, the results of studies on the terminal performance of unleaded hunting rifle bullets and their ricochet behaviour compared to conventional lead ammunition were also discussed by the participants in the symposium on 18 and 19 March 2013, along with eco-toxicological issues.

In the research project “Food Safety of Game Obtained through Hunting”, samples were drawn from more than 1000 roe deer and wild boar from various regions of Germany so that an initial evaluation could be made. The federal states involved were Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Bavaria, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hamburg and Bremen, as well as the German Hunting Association, Bavarian Hunting Association, Association of Professional German Hunters, and the industry, represented by the European Poultry, Egg and Game Wholesale and Import Society and the Federation of Hunting and Sport Weapon and Ammunition Manufacturers. Some of the animals in each region were shot with conventional lead bullets, others with unleaded hunting ammunition. Samples were taken from the area around the bullet channel, as well as the back and haunch, of every marketable animal shot. The material obtained was examined for its lead, copper and zinc content. The initial evaluation of over 100 data records shows that meat from animals shot with lead ammunition has significantly higher lead concentrations than parallel samples taken from animals shot without lead. The data show that the lead concentrations decrease with increasing distance from the bullet channel. At the same time, there is also a difference in overall lead contamination between game meat from animals shot with and without lead, even in samples taken far away from the bullet channel.

It has also been established, however, that bullet materials such as copper and zinc, which are used in alternative ammunition, are less toxic than lead. This means that as far as the health risks of residues in meat are concerned, unleaded ammunition is given a much more favourable assessment than leaded ammunition.

In both of the research projects sponsored by the BMELV to examine the ricochet behaviour and terminal performance of unleaded bullets compared to conventional lead ammunition, the applicants - the German Institute for the Testing and Examining of Hunting and Sports Guns (DEVA) and the University for Sustainable Development in Eberswalde - showed that the construction of the projectile is an important influencing factor in the correct killing of game and the safety of persons involved in hunting. The extent to which the materials contained in the ammunition have an effect on the ecosystems was also discussed by the experts. The BMELV and representatives of the interested parties from the hunting community emphasised their intention of taking joint action to pave the way towards alternative projectile materials. The Powerpoint presentations delivered during the symposium will soon be published on the BfR homepage.

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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