Shooting’s lethal addiction to lead shot

Posted on the 26th November 2015

A new report from Oxford University has shown that discarded lead shot kills around 100,000 wetland birds every year – and that eating birds contaminated with lead shot is worse for human health than previously thought.

There is no safe minimum dose of lead for humans, which is why it is banned, for example, from petrol and plumbing. It can affect the intellectual development of children, and harm babies in the womb. Lord Krebs, emeritus professor of zoology at Oxford University, talking about the new report, told the BBC that “an overwhelming body of evidence (showed that lead shot was) a risk both to humans and to wildlife. The advice would be that lead shot should be phased out.”

In England and Wales, hunters are not allowed to use lead shot to shoot ducks and geese. But when the the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust tested 100 ducks from English suppliers, more than three quarters had been killed with the product. Lead shot is legal for shooting pheasants and grouse, so clearly it is being bought ostensibly for that purpose, and then being used illegally to shoot ducks.

Therefore, it is clear that this partial ban on using lead shot is not working and indeed is impossible to enforce, so there needs to be a complete ban on its sale or possession, in order to to prevent these 100,000 bird deaths – and protect human health. There is a precedent, as Denmark, Sweden and Norway all banned lead shot in 1996.

Why does the shooting industry want to use such a dangerous material? Because lead is heavy and so lead shot is more likely to penetrate its victims vital organs and because it is soft and so it does not harm the barrels of the shooters’ valuable old guns. Neither of these reasons are adequate when set against 100,000 wild birds being poisoned, and the risk to human health.

Generally, the record of the shooting industry is very poor:

  • Around 50 million pheasants and partridge are released into the British countryside every year without any study of the environmental impact. The release is much greater than the total biomass of all wild birds.
  • Snares set by the industry indiscriminately torture and kill wild animals.
  • Raptors are illegally killed and brought to the brink of extermination.
  • Poison is illegally spread without regard to human or animal health.

This track record shows that the shooting world cannot be trusted to police itself. The government needs to act in response to this Oxford University report, and it needs to publish the findings of a study by the government-sponsored Lead Ammunition Advisory Group.

Ultimately, Animal Aid would like shooting to be banned, in order to protect both animals and the environment. That is not going to happen overnight. However, there is now overwhelming evidence that a complete ban on the sale or possession of lead shot is both practicable and urgently needed.

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