Researchers call for action on lead-tainted meat due to EHN report

By on October 25, 2022 0

Scientists in the US and Europe are calling for inspections of game meat donated to US food banks to prevent exposure to toxic lead for children and families.


The article, published last month in the American Journal of Public Healthquote a EHN.org Survey that the lead fragments found are a known hazard in game meat, but most states do not inspect for possible contamination. The report showed that this lack of oversight could result in hundreds of thousands of lead-tainted meals each year, with fetuses, children and pregnant women most at risk.

There is no safe level of lead in people’s blood. Exposure leads to a range of health impacts, including attention problems, decreased IQ, increased problem behaviors, kidney disease, preeclampsia, and cardiovascular problems.

The majority of hunters still use lead ammunition – although there are alternatives – and animals killed with lead bullets may contain metal fragments. The amount of contamination depends on the type of firearm and bullet, whether the bullet hit the animal’s bones, and whether or not the meat is ground. (In Minnesota, where state authorities actually test donated game meat for lead, most lead contamination has been found in ground venison.)

University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health doctoral student and researcher Sam Totoni conducted the initial survey for EHN.org and also led the new call-to-action document. Totoni and his co-authors also pointed to the environmental injustice implications of this lack of testing.

Lack of food safety standards

The authors acknowledge the benefits of donated hunted meat, but point out that there is almost no oversight to ensure the safety of this type of meat at food banks across the United States.

Most states have adopted the FDA Food Code, which does not address donated foods. As a result, people who shop at grocery stores are protected from adulterated food containing tiny bits of metal, unlike people who receive donated food.

“An underlying lack of food safety standards for donated adulterated foods increases risks for low-income recipients, who are already disproportionately affected by elevated blood lead levels,” Totoni and colleagues wrote. in their new report.

Industry rejection

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that hunters should not use lead bullets. A review from 2016 found that of 570 scientific papers on lead ammunition, 99% raised concerns about its toxic effects on health and the environment.

However, the firearms industry and affiliated groups are making concerted efforts to push back on regulation and promote the continued use of lead ammunition. Totoni described the vast scientific denial and deceptive tactics by these groups in follow-up reports last year.

“Despite the well-established scientific basis for the regulation of lead ammunition for hunting, the subject has been politicized by disinformation campaigns portraying concerns about the ingestion of lead ammunition as a product of anti-hunting programs,” they said. write the authors in the new report.

A model for testing hunted meat

In Minnesota, where state officials test donated game meat for lead, most lead contamination has been found in ground game.

Credit: Blueridge Wildlife Center

wildlife lead ammunition

Lead fragments in ground game. There is almost no oversight to ensure the safety of game meat donated to food banks across the United States.

Credit: Blueridge Wildlife Center

Despite the lack of national food safety regulations for food donations, Minnesota offers a model to protect recipients of game meat donations: The state Department of Agriculture has an annual Game Meat Inspection, which is funded by levying an additional dollar on sales of certain hunting licenses. Between 2014 and 2019, the state threw away about 9% of hunted meat wrappers each year because it found evidence of lead contamination through x-rays.

While such state programs could prevent people – who are largely low-income consumers – from eating lead, “the most reliable form of primary prevention of lead adulterated meat is the routine use of lead-free ammunition. lead for hunting,” the authors wrote.

“This public health concern goes beyond the donation of meat to millions of Americans in the hunting community, who regularly consume game meat harvested with lead ammunition. We call for primary prevention actions to address this neglected environmental justice issue.