Parliamentary questions on lead ammunition & medicated grit on grouse moors

The Scottish Greens just keep piling on the pressure.

Some interesting Parliamentary questions from Mark Ruskell MSP on the toxic hazard of lead ammunition and the use of medicated grit on grouse moors:

Question S5W-29820, Date Lodged: 09/06/2020

To ask the Scottish Government what proportion of the active ingredient in the medicated grit that is used on managed grouse moors is excreted by the birds. [Expected answer date 24/6/2020]

Question S5W-29821, Date Lodged: 09/06/2020
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment SEPA has made regarding the wider environmental impacts of the medicated grit that is used on grouse moors. [Expected answer date 24/6/2020]
Question S5W-29822, Date Lodged: 09/06/2020
To ask the Scottish Government what testing is carried out on the levels in the human food chain of the active ingredient in the medicated grit that is used on grouse moors. [Expected answer date 24/6/2020]
Question S5W-29823, Date Lodged: 09/06/2020
To ask the Scottish Government when it expects the use of lead ammunition to be entirely phased out on (a) public and (b) private land. [Expected answer date 24/6/2020]
Question S5W-29824, Date Lodged: 09/06/2020
To ask the Scottish Government what level of lead from shot gameboards [sic] is present in the human food chain, and what regular analysis it carries out of this. [Expected answer date 24/6/2020]
The Scottish Government is going to struggle not to look completely incompetent and/or wholly unconcerned about the unregulated toxic hazards that feature on driven grouse moors. This can be stated with confidence because the answers to Mark’s questions are already known.
The active ingredient in medicated grit is Flubendazole, a drug that has been identified as ‘an emerging environmental contaminant of acute and chronic toxicity’ and has been shown to be particularly toxic to aquatic organisms. Previous Freedom of Information requests submitted by this blog have revealed that the Scottish Government is not monitoring the impact of medicated grit, even though it’s known that some in the industry are using a super-strength dose up to twenty times the original dose! Surveillance undertaken by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), responsible for the national (UK) monitoring of veterinary drugs in food products, has been woefully inadequate, and that’s being kind. In a country that shoots an estimated three quarters of a million red grouse each year, the VMD proposed to test just ten birds in 2018 (see here).
The use of lead ammunition to shoot gamebirds in the UK is unregulated, despite the well-documented high toxicity of this metal and the consequential health implications of consuming it. With most of the previously significant sources of lead in the environment now having been eliminated decades ago (e.g. lead-based paints and leaded petrol), lead-based ammunition is the most significant unregulated source of lead deliberately emitted in to the environment. It’s a poison, it’s as simple as that.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the most jaw-dropping revelation is that all gamebirds (including red grouse) appear to be exempt from statutory testing for lead shot, in sharp contrast to other meat types destined for human consumption. Research (here) has shown that shot red grouse destined for the food chain may contain excessive amounts of toxic poisonous lead (over 100 times the lead levels that would be legal for other meat)!
Talk about vested interests! The law makers of the day clearly put their own pleasure and convenience above the health and welfare of the general public and the environment. It’s an absolute shocker that this continues.
The game shooting industry knows that time is up on this issue and earlier this year we saw a high profile media campaign suggesting that the industry supported a ‘voluntary ban’ on the use of lead ammunition (yeah, because this industry’s adherence to voluntary restraint is legendary, right?) and wanted to see it phased out within five years. Unfortunately, not everybody in the industry was singing from the same hymn sheet and it turned in to a bit of a car crash when the Scottish Gamekeepers Association refused to sign up (see here).
It’ll be interesting to see how the Scottish Government responds to Mark’s questions.
For those who want to find out more about the use of medicated grit and lead ammunition, download fully referenced summary report (here) from Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform.
UPDATE 13 July 2020: Disingenuous parliamentary answers from Scot Gov on toxic hazards of grouse moor management (here)

16 thoughts on “Parliamentary questions on lead ammunition & medicated grit on grouse moors”

  1. As far as getting the point across that lead is very toxic and its effects are irreversible goes then I haven’t yet seen it done better than in Michael Moore’s documentary ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’. There’s a recurring segment about how the public water supply in Flint, Michigan was poisoned and subsequently very high levels of lead were found in samples of blood from local children, but that information was suppressed, even altered because politically it was so very awkward. The public health and political issues are not perhaps so different between Flint and the UK as you might initially think. It’s a worthwhile documentary on several accounts and is currently on Netflix.

  2. As long as there is inadequate testing of both the levels of Flubendazole and the regulation of lead in game meat both ” the industry” and government are vulnerable to this sort of question. The reaction and answers will be illuminating.
    Its time VMD got its act together a tested a REPRESENTATIVE sample of grouse from a REPRESENTATIVE sample of moors putting birds into the human food chain. that is probably hundreds of birds tested not a few!

  3. Well, I think the SG should institute a review of these questions, led by some professional person (a professor or somesuch) with a band of representatives of the industry and stakeholders as a whole to thrash out a ‘roadmap’ .

    That should kick it all into the long grass for a bit whilst the SG can always say that their waiting for the results and recommendations of said review. Well – it’s worked OK before!

  4. There has to be a concern about the amount of lead that ends up in the ground (and hence where the toxins spread) as a result of shooting. I know of a small local shoot that kills about 1500 pheasants (plus a few partridge and any unfortunate woodcock that happen to be about) each season. The number of shots fired is approximately 4500 – three per bird on average (they are counted).
    In 10 years that works out at 45,000 cartridges. That is a lot of lead going into the ground just from the organised shoots and does not include all the pigeons, crows etc. etc.

    1. Part of my response to the RSPB consultation on game shooting:

      “4. The use of lead ammunition is dangerously harmful to consumers of game and to our wildlife.

      We have banned lead in paint, petrol, fishing weights and water pipes because it is poisonous, yet it is permitted to place lead-shot game into the human food chain and spread it around the countryside in a completely uncontrolled manner.

      Assuming exclusive use of 12-gauge shotguns with 1oz cartridges and a kill ratio of 1:3 (ie. one bird for every three shots) and that about half of all gamebirds are actually killed or wounded by gunshot (say, around 30 million currently).

      That gives a (staggering) total of 2.55 million kilograms of lead sprayed around the countryside, but with a fair amount (about one-third, say) remaining within the carcasses.

      Which means approximately 1.7 million kilograms (1673 tons) of lead are left deposited on the ground each year, while 0.85 million kilograms (836 tons) of lead potentially enter the human food chain! ”

      Nobody else, afaik, is producing estimates of these totals.

      1. Is it possible that some of this lead is picked up as grit by other birds to aid digestion poisoning them as well? Do you know of any proof of that happening? Not that the shooters would care either way.

        1. The startling truth, Paul, is that no one is, or ever has been, formally assessing these obvious risks: it is being, and has been, actively ignored by Defra, Natural England and other national agencies, the Environment Agency and the Food Standards Agency.

          Which is why I wanted to put some ‘ball-park’ figures into the public domain: 1673 tons of lead are left deposited in our countryside every year, and 836 tons of lead are potentially entering the human food chain every year. I have given my ‘fag packet’ calculations, if anyone wishes to refine the numbers…

          Where does it all go? Ingested by some birds (directly and indirectly), almost certainly. Ingested by some people, almost certainly. All legally approved by the above organisations.

          Note: the Food Standards Agency say on their web site that there is no safe level of ingestion of lead. But refuse to either ban or monitor lead-shot game entering the human food chain.

  5. I agree with pushing the issue of lead shot pollution which is involved in the killing of Red Grouse and other birds (wildfowl). However, our supporters should know, that lead shot has been banned in England for a wee while now and there is a (kind of) phase-out taking place in Scotland, but obviously not fast enough.
    That information, should perhaps be taken into account, when quoting tonnage etc of lead pollution, although, in my book, even a little is too much.
    The SGA have been dithering on the same subject and are, apparently, intending the banning of lead ammunition within five years.
    They seem to be far more interested in damage to their weapons and the potential cost of replacement/modification, than the toxicity of lead, as a perusal of their website on the subject, makes evident.
    That, as I understand it, is the present (not very clear, because of the SGA’s pronouncement on the subject!)

    1. “However, our supporters should know, that lead shot has been banned in England for a wee while now ”

      No, it has not.

      You may be mistakingly thinking of shooting over water, where the use of lead shot has been banned in England and Wales, or certain SSSIs. However, it is ban in name only.

    2. Banned for wildfowling, but how many are actually obeying the law? The shooting industry is not exactly renowned for doing so. In 2015 BB reported on a study that showed over 100,000 wildfowl still die from lead poisoning every year. I doubt that has changed for the better.

  6. Maybe somebody could correct me if I’m wrong but I seem to remember (when shotguns interested me) that gunmakers, repairers and shootersa are very resistant to steel/iron shot because it damages barrels whereas lead if anything creates a protective lining. However, this doesn’t seem to worry people in other parts of the world where non-lead shot is normal. Being increasing cynical about all things “field sport” it makes one wonder if yet again vested interest comes into play, ammunition makers and consumers??

    1. People can make lead shot at home, because of its relatively low melting point, making it cheaper to produce. The same won’t apply to steel, don’t know about bismuth.

  7. Paul, Keith and Simon, You are correct. I had been reading a lot on the use of lead shot and in doing so, had no interest in shooting in England . I was ‘surprised’ to see it had been banned there – and of course, you are correct about its limitations. The information I saw, mentioned it being ‘banned’ and I thought, ‘What the hell is the excuse for continuing in Scotland?’ I even read all sorts of stuff on ‘proofing barrels’ re-boring barrels etc, but having picked up, wrongly, the bit about lead being banned, carried on with the other stuff on which I was checking.
    Apparently, England and presumably, also Wales, seems to be much further down the road of genuinely banning lead, than Scotland is. The SGA comments on justifying the continuing use of lead shot, is almost like leading a comic. I apologise, for getting carried away, to a point where the wish was (almost) the father to the deed, by my misunderstanding of the position down south. I was so delighted to ‘see’ it, I really should have checked more thoroughly.
    My main interest in the whole business of shooting, is in its close relationship with Driven Grouse Moor Shooting and thereby, the extinction attempt which appears to be being made on our raptors.
    My real interest is in successful prosecution and more and more laws – and penalties which are never imposed, because virtually no one is caught, makes me search for another way of holding these people responsible for their actions. If they were as quick to point out and give evidence against the perpetrators of raptor killing, as they are to rush to defend their ‘honourable name’, I would genuinely have some hope, within the existing system. I fear however, that, until the investigators into wildlife crime are given more power, as they have in North America and to a certain extent, have here in Scotland, with the RSPCA Investigators, I see little hope for successful prosecutions. We really need a specialised group (probably the SPCA) with more and real extensive powers, who genuinely are in no one’s pocket and have a proven record of pursuing criminals, to the point where they find and know how to preserve evidence. It would mean new powers and MONEY to equip them further, to bring successful prosecutions and THEN use the penalties we’ve been talking about and the criminals have been laughing about, for years.

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