Lead in Hunting Ammunition and Food Safety

By Maria Askew and Wayne Askew

Those that follow Truth about Lead on Facebook know that nary a week goes by where we don’t post about wildlife being poisoned by lead ammunition or lead fishing tackle that has polluted our environment.  Despite the fact that the environmental risks are well-known, and safer alternatives exist, lead bullets and lead fishing weights are still allowed on US shelves.  So far, California is the only state in the US that has managed to issue a complete ban on lead ammunition; the law goes into full effect in 2019 (California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2017).


2012 Volcano Art Prize (VAP) Entry. Title: A Lead Weight. Lead-Safety Message: Always buy lead-free products if they are available eg lead-free ammunition, crystal, fishing sinkers, jewellery, artists’ paints, wheel weights. Photographer: Judy Pinn. http://volcanoartprize.com/portfolio-item/a-lead-weight/

One aspect of this issue that is often overlooked is the risk to public health in relation to consuming wild game that was hunted using lead ammunition.  While a common practice by hunters and commercial meat processors alike is to discard a border of meat around the wound channel, research shows that it is not uncommon for bullet fragments to scatter and contaminate other areas of the meat.  In a study of 30 carcasses of white-tailed deer hunted with standard lead bullets and then commercially processed, bullet fragments were found in the ground meat of 24 of the carcasses (Hunt et al., 2009).

Just how much of a risk are we looking at?  In a study by Iqbal et al. (2009), of 742 participants, mean blood lead levels of those who consumed wild game were found to be 0.3 µg/dL higher than those who did not consume wild game.  This might not sound like a lot on the surface, but consider that lead exposure from a variety of sources all contribute to the body’s total lead burden.  In addition, we know now that even low levels of lead can have harmful consequences.  Lead serves no purpose in the body and no safe level of exposure can be established; thus, all efforts should be made to reduce our lead exposure in areas that we can control.

2017 Volcano Art Prize (VAP) Entry. Title: Australian outback animals at a waterhole. Lead Safety Message: Keep the outback lead-free by not using leaded gun shot. Artist: Ritishaa Sreedhar, aged 11. Materials: lead-free “lead pencil”, oil pastel and textas. http://volcanoartprize.com/portfolio-item/outback/

We are asking that hunters strongly consider switching over to non-leaded ammunition, if they haven’t done so already.  We also urge health care providers, health departments, and lead advocacy groups to discuss this topic in their lead education efforts.


Bellinger, D., Bradman, A.; Burger, J., Cade, T., Cory-Slechta, D., Doak, D., et al.(2013). Health Risks from Lead-Based Ammunition in the Environment – A Consensus Statement of Scientists. University of California Santa Cruz: Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology. Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/6dq3h64x

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. (2017). Nonlead ammunition in California. In Hunting. Retrieved from https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/nonlead-ammunition

Hunt, W., Watson, R., Oaks, J., Parish, C., Burnham, K., Tucker, R., Belthoff, J., & Hart, G. (2009). Lead bullet fragments in venison from rifle-killed deer: Potential for human dietary exposure. Plos ONE, 4(4), 1-6. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005330

Iqbal, S., Blumenthal, W., Kennedy, C., Yip, F., Pickard, S., Flanders, W., Loringer, K., Kruger, K., Caldwell, K., & Jean Brown, M. (2009). Hunting with lead: Association between blood lead levels and wild game consumption. Environmental Research, 109(8), 952-959.