Joshua Hunter: Lead bullets are contaminating meat from game

This commentary is by Joshua Hunter, a resident of South Royalton.

In a 2020 article — headlined “Lead in hunted meat: Who is telling hunters and their families?” — Environmental Health News reported that “Dr. William Cornatzer … led a project to X-ray packages of venison donated to the state’s food banks. The images revealed lead contamination in 60% of samples. ‘I about fell out of my chair,’ he told EHN. He realized that his children and pregnant wife had likely been exposed to lead from his own hunted venison.” 

The truth is that millions of Americans feed their families lead-contaminated meat caused by the use of lead bullets. According to the Fish & Wildlife Department performance-based budget report, in Vermont alone, more than 3.5 million meals were made from game meat in 2018, and most of those were likely contaminated with lead. 

Well-meaning individuals seeking to provide for their families and donate food to the needy are slowly poisoning the very people for whom they seek to provide.  

How then does exposure to lead from lead ammunition affect human health? It is common knowledge that there is no safe level of lead consumption, especially for pregnant women and young children who metabolize lead much faster than the average adult male. 

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, lead causes a wide variety of irreversible health problems and adverse effects, including lowering IQ and causing learning disabilities in children and unborn fetuses; it can cause infertility, miscarriages, congenital disabilities, cancer, brain and nervous system diseases, kidney diseases and, in large amounts, it can cause death, coma, or strokes. 

Moreover, lead can accumulate in one’s bones, causing worsening effects over time as one continues to eat lead-contaminated meat. 

As lead from bullets affects humans, so can it negatively affect wildlife. Indeed, the Center for Biological Diversity states: “In the United States, an estimated 3,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment by hunting every year, another 80,000 tons are released at shooting ranges … while as many as 20 million birds and other animals die each year from subsequent lead poisoning.” 

Lead shatters when it hits flesh, spreading dust particles and lead fragments throughout the carcass. Wild animals that are killed and left via wanton waste — coyotes are a good example — and gut piles left behind when game corpses are field-dressed are often contaminated with lead. 

Birds of prey like hawks, eagles and vultures are most affected by lead-contaminated carcasses and often die from lead poisoning. Moreover, lead bullets that miss their target and lead ammunition that is improperly disposed of from shooting ranges can contaminate the soil or drinking water, devastating the local environment.  

The good news is that lead exposure from bullets is entirely preventable, not by giving up hunting or buying more expensive ammunition but by merely switching to one of the many affordable and highly efficient lead-free bullets available in Vermont. 

It is my hope that state Fish & Wildlife Departments, including Vermont’s, will require only non-lead shot for hunting in the near future. The science is out there.  

Protect your families, the environment, and the animals you care about by switching to lead-free bullets and contacting your local legislators to advocate for a ban on lead ammunition for hunting.  

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