This is the second part of a two part series. You can read the first post here.
No firm evidence exists for lead poisoning in humans although considerable evidence exists to suggest those that eat large quantities of shot wildlife may suffer heightened lead content levels in their bodies. A Conservation Evidence article quotes two sources when stating that adult Inuit people in arctic Canada showed elevated blood lead levels, the degree of which was positively correlated with the quantity of hunted waterfowl in the diet (Dewailly et al. 2001) and an analysis of stable isotope ratios of lead in blood samples indicated that exposure to ammunition is the main cause of elevated blood lead in indigenous people in Canada (Tsuji et al. 2008).
In all likelihood the consumption of any wild meat products killed by shooting probably results in an increased ingestion of lead. According to a joint study covered by Wild Life Extra and carried out by The Peregrine Fund and Washington State University “X-rays revealed that processed ground venison from 80% of the deer sampled in the research contained metal fragments,” said Rick Watson, vice president of The Peregrine Fund, a raptor conservation organization. Further tests revealed that 92% of those metal particles were lead and it was concluded that even though the area around the wound is routinely cut away and discarded lead in finely ground fragments is widely dispersed in the carcass making it all but impossible for butchers to track it down and remove it.
So if lead were banned what would be used instead? Well for regular ammunition, copper is the front runner, hunting supporters suggest nothing is lost in terms of accuracy although the British study referenced above states that there could be a marginal increase in the risk of ricochet as copper does not fragment as readily as lead but setting sensible sight lines and fire zones should negate this risk. One would expect copper to be more expensive – the metal costs three times as much in its primary form but actual shelf prices do not support that and the difference could be down to production costs being lower or the lower density of copper over lead. In the UK, lead bullets cost £115 ($178) per box plus tax while an equivalent quantity of the same caliber in copper costs £174 ($270). In the US, where volumes are many times the size of the UK, market prices are lower and indeed copper was found at $34.64 per box of 50 to be less than lead at $36.95.
No doubt the debate will rage on for some time to come. We can’t help feeling the industry’s objections have more to do with the cost of changing tooling and production techniques to use alternative metals than with genuine disbelief that non toxic copper would be better to scatter into the wild than toxic lead.