Researchers Set Sights on Lead Bullets Used in Hunting
Enlarge image Does conventional lead ammunition threaten the health of consumers? (© picture-alliance/ zb) The Bavarian State Hunting Association (BJV) has set its sights on ammunition: an investigation was launched on Friday in the Bavarian town of Wunsiedel, in order to help clarify whether game shot with conventional lead ammunition threatens the health of consumers. By the end of this year’s hunting season, game will be shot in a test area of a local hunting school with lead and lead-free ammunition. “We will analyze and compare the meat for lead content,” explained Egbert Urbach, the head of the BAJ-hunting school monitoring the progress.
In fall 2011, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) recommended that “children, pregnant women and women who want children....abandon the consumption of wild game that has been shot with lead bullets.” Elevated lead concentrations in the human body are harmful to the formation of blood, internal organs and the central nervous system. The BfR indicated, however, that a precise risk assessment was difficult due to the lack of studies on the topic.
The announced study thus aims to materially investigate lead contamination among various game species. The results from samples collected in Bavaria are to be sent to the Federal Institute in Berlin, according to Urbach. After completion of the analysis, conclusions are expected to be drawn as to whether lead-containing ammunition should be regulated.
Urbach incated, however, that he would not be surprised if the game shot with lead-free bullets still yielded traces of the heavy metal during testing. He points out that animals may sometimes accumulate lead through natural feeding practices.
The research project will involve samples of deer and wild boar from six German regions with varying soil lead content, and thus factor in the possibility of lead traces coming through food sources.
One reason why lead bullets are still common is that finding an alternative material poses several complications. RUAG Ammotec, a munitions company, says that it provides ammunition for the larger part of the 340,000 German hunters. The company has already been manufacturing cartridges made of copper or zinc for many years, but “the majority of these lead-free hunting cartridges are designed for hunting up to a maximum distance of 130 meters [about 142 yards],” says Gerhard Gruber, the firm’s Manager of Technical Services. For most hunting situations, that is sufficient. Many big-game hunters, however, must often aim at an animal from distances of up to 300 meters (about 328 yards). Copper bullets, which are 21 percent lighter and more brittle, cannot compete with traditional hunting bullets at these distances. If shot, the animal would not be immediately killed, and may die an agonizing death.
The Bavarian State Hunting Association therefore wants to go one step further: in a second, parallel project, the effects of lead-free ammunition are to be investigated. “The use of copper as an alternative ammunition poses other risks, since copper, when used as a lead substitute, can effect highly toxic reactions,” says the Hunting Association’s President, Jürgen Vocke. These additional studies are the only such ones carried out in Germany so far, he adds. Vocke stresses that he does not dismiss lead-free bullets altogether, but emphasized that the new ammunition must kill in a humane manner.
Traditional wild game hunting remains very popular in Bavaria, both for sport and for consumption. Hunting licensure and practices are strictly controlled, and game management is overseen by state and local authorities.