Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lead in Venison

Last summer I wrote an article about the issue of lead in venison for Whitetails Unlimited magazine (Fall, 2008, I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the issue but last March (2008), a North Dakota dermatologist, Dr. William Cornatzer, conducted a series of CT (CAT) scans of ground venison. (These tests are now known as the Cronatzer Tests.) The scans revealed tiny particles of lead in the venison (the photo is one of the CT images of the ground venison) and a result was that several health departments panicked and ordered several tons (that’s right—tons) of venison stocked by food pantries throughout several states to be destroyed. At the same time North Dakota requested that the Center for Disease Control conduct a study of hunters and non-hunters to determine if there is any evidence of elevated levels of lead among those who consume venison. When the results were finally published the CDC results did show that those who regularly eat venison do have an elevated amount of lead in their blood. But, and this is important, the amount of lead is negligible and should not be of any concern because it is not dangerous. Except, and this is the exception that proves the rule, any amount of lead, even an amount that is otherwise of no threat, can be a danger to women who are pregnant or to very small children.

The venison in lead issue is interesting because it is a very polarizing issue. Within the hunting industry an immediate, knee-jerk reaction has been to claim that the issue has been manufactured by the Peregrine Falcon Fund and other far left organizations as a means to ban lead hunting ammunition. Others in the industry maintain that there is absolutely no credible evidence to support the theory of lead in venison. I disagree with both. In researching the WU article I read the results of seven different studies on whether lead appears in venison. Admittedly most of these studies were focused on the lead question as it relates to raptors but the results are the same for both hunters and raptors—big game that is shot by hunters does have some lead particles in it. At least that is how I read the results of the various studies. When the ammunition manufacturers are asked about the lead issue they maintain that it cannot happen but when I asked a gunsmith if it can occur his answer was to weigh a bullet before shooting it into ballistic compound or an animal carcass then weigh all the parts of the bullet you can recover. “The amount of lead you recover will not equal the original weight. Where did it go?” His point is made.

There is no reason for anyone to panic and quit hunting or even to switch from their favorite ammunition—just exercise a little common sense. First, be sure your marksmanship is up to the task of a one shot kill and place your bullet in the heart/lung area and not the heavy meat areas of the shoulder. Second, before butchering your deer be sure to cut away the wound channel and don’t use any of the meat near the channel. You will not be able to see any lead particulates, they are microscopic. You could also be a true conservationist and if you hunt in an area that is home habitat for any threatened raptors hunt with non-lead ammunition, whether hunting upland game birds or big game you’ll be helping wildlife.


NorCal Cazadora said...

We switched to non-lead this summer because we were hunting in the California condor zone, where lead ammo has been banned.

The sighting-in process took forever because it shot very differently. I've had two excellent kills with it, one a neck shot on a wild pig, the other a lung shot on a wild sheep. No room for error on either, because the wound channel is narrow and the bullet goes straight through.

There's minimal damage to meat, but you can't count on fragmenting lead to make up for a poor shot.

I certainly wouldn't freak out about eating something that'd been shot with lead, but now that we're sighted in, we're not changing.

Besides, it's only a matter of time before California bans all lead ammo statewide. We love to be first. Groan.

Galen Geer said...

Hi NorCal,
The California condor zone study is one of the most interesting on the lead issue and really set the wheels in motion to the lead in venison issue. There really is not any reason for anyone to freak out about eating venison, just use a little common sense with it and there is no problem.

Speaking of using non-lead bullets I used Barnes X-bullets on my first safari and I shot quite a few big African animals with them and all but one were one-shot kills. The one that took more than one was a bushbuck that absorbed four lethal hits, then went back into the thick cover and died while it was waiting for us to come after it. They are tough little critters! It is also my favorite mount and I am looking forward to next spring when I finish my office and I can hang my mounts. glg

The Rabid Outdoorsman said...

I saw a lengthy article on this in Field and Stream this past month as well. It got me seriously thinking about not feeding any venison hamburg to my lil ones.

Phillip said...

This is a topic I've been trying to stay on top of for several years now, beginning with the first rumblings of the CA lead ban and the move throughout the international community to eliminate lead ammo as well, both in the field and at the range (where it's arguably a much more significant human health threat).

My personal opinions on the issue have swung around a bit, in large part because it became such a politically charged situation.

First, and foremost, I agree that it would be a positive thing to see lead ammo phased out, just as we've done with lead-based paint, gasoline, and some other products. Regardless of any risk due to ingestion, lead is an environmental problem.

I switched to copper for the same reasons as Holly, primarily the fact that the law requires it where I do most of my hunting. I do find it to perform very well, and I like it, but I can afford it. I would not have switched due to health concerns, as the evidence just doesn't hold up.

As far as health risks, I kept an eye on the North Dakota and CDC tests in hopes that something consequential would come out on one side or the other... but as we saw, it wasn't very convincing. I expect though that only a focused, long-term test will really offer any answers as to whether there's a real health risk. I don't know if such a program is planned or underway.

I won't blame or ridicule anyone who does switch "just to be safe", but I honestly don't think it's necessary.