Skip to content

We all know that lead exposure is harmful, especially to developing babies and children. But what about eating meat (e.g. venison) from an animal that has been shot with lead bullets? Does the lead contaminate the meat? This is an important question because hunters provide game not only for their families, but also donate meat (such as venison) to food pantries.

A number of studies over the years have examined this issue and the finding is that YES - using lead-based bullets contaminates the meat. Bullets can fragment into hundreds of small pieces (many are microscopic fragments only detectable with x-rays or chemical analysis), especially if they hit large bones of the animal. These fragments are still there and detectable after processing.

So yes, people wind up ingesting meat with tiny lead bullet fragments, even if they cut away several inches of meat from the bullet's path in the animal. Tiny bullet fragments travel more than 6" inches away, and even 11" away from the bullet path. Studies find that eating meat from animals shot with lead based ammunition results in a spike in blood lead levels - which gradually goes down over months, but also migrates to the bones where it stays.

In 2013 a group of 30 nationally and internationally recognized scientists with lead and environmental health expertise collaborated to create an evidence-based consensus statement called Health Risks from Lead-Based Ammunition in the Environment—A Consensus Statement of Scientists 2013. Along with listing scientific evidence, they ask for the reduction and elimination of lead-based ammunition, in order to protect human and environmental health.

Unfortunately hunters usually do not know this information. It's not publicized, and doctors don't mention it. But hunters should be informed. One can't imagine anyone wanting to deliberately eat meat containing lead fragments. Or wanting to feed it to children or pregnant women.

What can you do? Don't use any lead-based ammunition. Only eat game shot with non-lead ammunition (e.g.copper). The evidence is there that if lead-based ammo is used to kill the animal, then the person eating the animal will ingest some lead bullet fragments.

Excerpts from Environmental Health News: Lead in hunted meat: Who’s telling hunters and their families?  ...continue reading "Do Lead Bullets Contaminate Hunted Meat?"