Most pheasants sold for food ‘contain lead shot’

Almost all pheasants sold for food in the UK contain toxic lead shot, scientists have found.” The quote comes from the BBC News website which is reporting this morning that – as most of us suspected all along – the voluntary five year phasing out of lead shot by the rapacious shooting industry was – well, five years behind schedule. At least that’s the obvious conclusion when “Of 180 birds examined by the scientists, 179 were shot with lead“.

The scientists in question have just published a paper in Conservation Scence with the unwieldy title “Effect of a joint policy statement by nine UK shooting and rural organisations on the use of lead shotgun ammunition for hunting common pheasants Phasianus colchicus in Britain”.

In their summary (which is mercifully more readable than the title) the authors (which include many long-time and highly-respected researchers in to the secondary impacts of lead shot on birds), state unequivocally that:

We conclude that the shooting and rural organisations’ joint statement, and their subsequent promotional actions, have not yet had a detectable effect on the ammunition types used by shooters supplying pheasants to the British game market.

Conservation Science, Feb 21


So shooting has done nothing about lead shot. That won’t be a huge surprise to most people, but does it matter if ‘food’ repeatedly advertised and sold as ‘healthy’ and ‘natural’ contains lead shot (“one of the most healthiest meats available” according to industry lobbyists Taste of Game, and do read Rob Sheldon’s tireless questioning of Sainsbury’s on this very subject)? Of course it does, because, as we and countless others have repeatedly said, lead is an environmental poison.

As we wrote almost exactly a year ago (see – Shooting and Lead Shot):

Lead is a serious pollutant. It’s dangerous – even Roman physicians knew that. Due to its high toxicity and the public and environmental health problems it causes, most releases of lead into the environment are strictly regulated in Europe (e.g. see AMEC 2012). In the UK lead was finally fully banned from vehicle fuel in 2000, removed from paint in 1992, and its use in water pipes before that. However, shooting still sprays tens of thousands of tonnes of lead across fields, moorlands, and woodlands, contaminating soil and water and besides putting at risk the health of wild birds also risks the health of people (their concerns brushed aside by disingenuous lobbyists and advertisers) that eat fragments of shot in their food.

The World Health Organisation says that “There is no known ‘safe’ blood lead concentration; even blood lead concentrations as low as 5 µg/dL, may be associated with decreased intelligence in children, behavioral difficulties and learning problems. As lead exposure increases, the range and severity of symptoms and effects also increases.”

But guess how shooting lobbyists BASC greeted the news that five years after it was supposedly was put in place the use of lead shot (to quote researcher and long-time campaigner Dr Debbie Pain) “hasn’t declined at all since the shooting organisations signed up to the voluntary ban“?

By saying, as they always say, that “[Our members] have to take time to try the alternatives – and those alternatives have to be effective and humane.”

Leaving aside that non-lead alternatives actually do exist (steel, bismuth and tungsten shot is readily available which BASC knows full well) and depending on your ethical stance there is no humane way to put holes into a farmed pheasant flushed to the gun anyway, a response like that is just incredibly self-serving. Never mind the toxic effect of discarded lead shot, the multiple wildfowl poisonings, the painful deaths of scavengers that find the corpses left behind by shooters who just can’t be bothered to tidy up after themselves – shooting wants yet more time.

As we said above, lead has been banned from a progressively lengthening list of products, but shooting – which has always believed in its own exceptionalism – wants more time before doing something, its own lobbyists even shifting the blame for inertia from itself onto its ‘members’.

Rational people (maybe even some rational shooters) will ask why on earth shooting wants to keep delaying what would be a major win for an industry that’s already under huge pressure. That’s down to our old friend ‘the line in the sand’. Shooting, as was amply demonstrated during the disgraceful petulance shown by shooting’s objections to the EU’s recent banning of lead shot over wetlands, absolutely refuses to give an inch in the belief that anything that changes their anachronistic but hugely profitable way of doing things will inevitably lead to the end of shooting full stop.

As an editorial in The Times (which is hardly known as an anti-shooting outlet) put it back in 2019:

Shooting organisations and other countryside groups have largely defied attempts to regulate lead ammunition by playing on the suspicions of traditionalists that what opponents have in their sights is not lead, but shooting altogether. There is also an unfounded perception in some quarters that the health risks of lead shot are exaggerated.

Rural groups need to stop being so defensive. The arguments against lead ammunition are not part of some wider anti-shooting agenda, as they sometimes like to claim.

The Times, Shooters must give up lead shot for the environment’s sake, 19 Sept 2019

Shooting has major support from the media, legislators and even government departments like Defra and Natural England, but even they must – surely – be starting to wonder how much longer the public will put up with ‘voluntary bans’ before demanding something enforceable?


Thankfully Dr Mark Avery, who has been urging the shooting industry for years to join the rest of us in dumping lead, has had something to say on the state of the shooting industry before he hangs up his blogging boots to focus on Wild Justice (which he confirmed just a few days ago).

Writing today he says that:

This is an industry that has a long record of saying one thing and doing another, and they can only get away with it, in England, because they are supported by a government that behaves in a very similar way – promising long and delivering short.

Dr Mark Avery, No progress on lead ammunition after one year – who’d have guessed?, 24 Feb 21

Concluding that:

Lead is a poison, the science is clear, this is an issue that has been dragging on for decades, government hasn’t acted on the recommendations of the Lead Ammunition Group’s report from 2015, recreational shooters haven’t changed their ways and the shooting industry’s representative organisations can’t be trusted.

Dr Mark Avery, No progress on lead ammunition after one year – who’d have guessed?, 24 Feb 21


The shooting industry’s representative organisations can’t be trusted‘. That’s another thing that won’t come as a surprise to many people either. After all, on top of doing nothing about lead shot, this is the same industry that has done nothing about raptor persecution, that unleashes an annual ecological assault on the countryside by releasing so many non-native birds that Defra was forced to admit that “the body of evidence confirms that released gamebirds can have direct and indirect effects on the fauna and flora of the habitats into which they are released” listing them as problem species alongside Japanese Knotweed, and which has largely sat on its hands while its some of its repulsive members have been revealed to have harassed, abused, and defamed high-profile campaigners (as detailed in this disturbing post on Raptor Persecution UK).

Have they done anything – anything at all – that suggests we should trust them? Answers on a postcard please…