The Effects of Lead Ammunition on Human
Health

The European Commission Regulation (EC) 1881/2006 sets forth maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs to keep them at levels which are apparently toxicologically acceptable. The Regulation has established the maximum permitted level of 0.1 mg/kg which applies to lead in meat from cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry that are offered for sale. However, no maximum level for lead has been established for game meat.

In its latest risk assessment on lead in food, European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) assessed that, in the worst-case scenario, Europeans who consume a “large amount of game meat” are those who generally eat 200 grammes per week, and thus 10.40 kg per year. However, studies have proved that the average daily doses for lead ingestion for adults or children in the European Union average population and for adults and children are all below the EFSA values.

Moreover, the intake of lead caused by the ingestion of game meat has very low toxic effects on human health. In game meat shot with lead ammunition, lead fragments are concentrated in areas that are regularly removed by all hunters in Europe through well-known practices of butchering and wound cleaning.

Additionally, even if fine lead fragments are accidentally ingested, they cannot be absorbed directly by the human body in their metallic form. Only a very small part, converted to ionic form, can be absorbed, but the risk of increased toxicity is very low and below the limits defined by the European Food Safety Authority. Lead blood levels increase only when the game meat is marinated before cooking, as acidic marination increases the bioavailability of orally ingested lead.

Several national food safety agencies in Europe have issued risk management guidance/advice, recommending also that children as well as pregnant and nursing women limit their consumption of game meat shot with lead ammunition, but none of those institutes have suggested national prohibitions on the use of lead ammunition.

The same national food safety agencies have demonstrated that all food, water, soft drinks, tea, coffee, alcoholic drinks, food supplements contain bioavailable lead ions in varying amounts and that foods consumed in the largest quantities like grains, milk products, vegetables, tap water are those having the greatest impact on lead dietary exposure.

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