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Implications for food safety of the size and location of fragments of lead shotgun pellets embedded in hunted carcasses of small game animals intended for human consumption.

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Pain, Deborah 
Smithson, Keturah 


Carcasses of common pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) killed by hunters using shotguns are widely used or sold in the United Kingdom and elsewhere for human consumption. Almost all of the birds are shot using shotgun pellets composed principally of lead (Pb). Lead shotgun pellets often fragment on impact within the bodies of gamebirds, leaving small lead particles in the meat that are difficult for consumers to detect and remove and from which a greater proportion of lead is likely to be absorbed. Chronic exposure to even low levels of lead is associated with negative health effects in humans and especially in groups particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead, which include young children and pregnant women. Our study used a high-resolution computerised tomography X-ray scanner to locate, in three dimensions, metal fragments embedded within carcasses of eight pheasants sold for human consumption in the UK. Small radio-dense fragments (<2 mm diameter), assumed to be metallic lead, were present in all of the pheasant carcasses examined (mean number: 39 per carcass) and many were too small (<0.1 mm diameter) and too distant from the nearest large shotgun pellet for it to be practical for consumers to detect and remove them without discarding a large proportion of otherwise usable meat. Consumers of carcasses of pheasants killed using lead shotgun ammunition are likely to be exposed to elevated levels of dietary lead, even if careful food preparation is practiced to remove shotgun pellets and the most damaged tissue.



Animals, Child, Child, Preschool, Female, Food Contamination, Food Safety, Humans, Lead, Lead Poisoning, Meat, Pregnancy, Quail

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PLoS One

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Public Library of Science (PLoS)
The Royal Society for the Protection Birds paid for the time required to image samples using the Cambridge Biotomography Centre’s CT scanner but the study received no other funding.