Banning Lead Should Not Be a Toxic Issue

Posted on Tue, 11/11/2014

RSPB's Agriculture Policy Officer, Ellie Crane, is attending the Convention on Migratory Species Conference of the Parties in Quito - vital decisions are in the process of being made - here's a guest blog just in from Ellie.

Lead is nasty stuff.  If it gets inside the human body it has multiple toxic effects – for example in children it damages the developing brain and can have lasting effects on IQ and behaviour. We have known about the problems of lead for years, which is why we've phased it out of paint and petrol.

But we are still releasing lead into our environment, in the form of lead ammunition used by hunters. It’s not only people who are at risk from eating  game shot with lead ammunition: birds are under threat too.

Large numbers of birds suffer and die from lead poisoning every year. They can eat gunshot that has fallen to the ground, mistaking it for food or grit. Many gamebirds survive shooting but carry shot in their flesh.These, along with animals that have been shot but not retrieved, are eaten by predatory and scavenging birds such as white-tailed eagles, that consequently ingest ammunition fragments.

This week the world has a historic opportunity to eliminate the threat of lead once and for all, at the international Convention on Migratory Species conference in Quito, Ecuador.  A proposal is on the table to phase out all use of lead ammunition and replace it with readily available non-toxic alternatives. Right now, government representatives from the UK, Europe and across the world are closeted in meeting rooms deciding whether or not to support this proposal.

There can be no doubt that this phase out of lead needs to happen, for the sake of both people and wildlife.  Last month a group of 30 eminent European scientists issued a statement summarising the overwhelming evidence for harm for lead and calling for a phase out of lead ammunition.  This follows a similar statement from American scientists.

Some countries have already taken partial action to tackle the lead problem, but this has mostly proved ineffective. In England, for example, the use of lead gunshot for shooting wildfowl was banned in 1999 but monitoring shows that most wildfowl continue to be shot (illegally) with lead gunshot and birds continue to die of lead poisoning.  Some countries have had more success: for example Denmark banned the use of lead gunshot for all shooting as long ago as 1996.  Danish hunters have embraced the shift to non-toxic ammunition and there has been no negative impact on the sport.

So the decision on whether to phase out lead ammunition across the whole world really is a no-brainer. The eyes of the world are on Quito.

Original post available here.