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Ethical and legal bird hunting duties by Polish veterinarians

  • Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland
  • University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine Poland


Polish veterinarians are committed to specific behaviors. They have an obligation to actively prevent pollution of the natural environment and threats to public health. The law does not prohibit them from hunting though. Hunting birds with lead ammunition is harmful to the environment, birds and humans. In view of the above, it seems that this type of hunting should be forbidden to veterinarians. Unfortunately, Polish law makes it impossible to punish veterinary surgeons for bird hunting with lead ammunition. As hunters, veterinarians are probably aware of the harmfulness of such behavior, but they prioritize their pleasure over environmental concerns. This study examines Polish legal acts related to hunting by veterinarians and presents specific legal provisions requiring and forbidding specific behaviors of veterinarians. According to the law on the profession of the veterinary surgeon, members of this profession must not engage in bird hunting with lead ammunition. The study discusses the difficulty of changing the current situation and forcing Polish veterinary surgeons to abandon bird hunting with toxic ammunition and to actively fight this practice. Veterinarians, in particular those who are hunters, should actively oppose such forms of hunting that are harmful to the natural environment, especially the hunting of game birds with lead ammunition. In accordance with veterinary knowledge, ethics and deontology, all veterinarians should inform the public about the harmfulness of eating game animals shot with lead ammunition, in particular with lead pellets.
Med. Weter. 2020, 76 (7), 389-393 389
Artykuł przeglądowy Review
Hunting has been meeting with increasing disap-
proval. Some aspects of this activity that provoke
public protest are addressed by new legislation. Two
examples of this are a ban introduced in Poland in 2018
on juveniles participating in hunting and the limitation
of the number of game species to just a few in the
Netherlands. The veterinary community, as well, is not
free from controversy regarding active participation of
veterinarians in hunting. So far, however, neither party
in the debate has cited legal provisions.
Veterinarians in Poland, as well, are divided about
their active participation in hunting. However, this
debate does not raise much interest in the Polish
National Veterinary Chamber, that is, the veterinary
self-government. The few articles on hunting pub-
lished in the journal of the Polish National Veterinary
Chamber (Życie Weterynaryjne) concern only ethical
aspects and hardly ever focus on legal ones (21, 31, 47).
Important as veterinary professional law may be for
veterinary surgeons, they have the same legal rights
and obligations as other citizens. Poland (according to
Article 5 of the Constitution) seeks to ensure, among
others, freedom and human rights, as well as environ-
mental protection, and is guided by the principle of
sustainable development (57). Freedom, however, is
not absolute, but limited by the law to ensure public
safety and order, and to protect health and the natural
environment (Article 31 section 3 of the Constitution).
Ethical and legal bird hunting duties
by Polish veterinarians
Department of Fundamental and Preclinical Sciences, Faculty of Biological and Veterinary Sciences,
Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Gagarina 7, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
*Department of Pathophysiology, Forensic Veterinary Medicine and Administration,
University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Oczapowskiego 13, 10-719 Olsztyn, Poland
**Department of Large Animal Diseases with Clinic, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine,
Veterinary Research Centre and Center for Biomedical Research, Warsaw University of Life Sciences WULS – SGGW,
Nowoursynowska 100, 02-797 Warsaw, Poland
***Department of Criminal Procedure, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn,
Dybowskiego 11, 10-719 Olsztyn, Poland
Received 08.10.2019 Accepted 18.12.2019
Felsmann M. Z., Szarek J., Sołtyszewski I., Karaźniewicz J.
Ethical and legal bird hunting duties by Polish veterinarians
Polish veterinarians are committed to specic behaviors. They have an obligation to actively prevent pollution
of the natural environment and threats to public health. The law does not prohibit them from hunting though.
Hunting birds with lead ammunition is harmful to the environment, birds and humans. In view of the above,
it seems that this type of hunting should be forbidden to veterinarians. Unfortunately, Polish law makes it
impossible to punish veterinary surgeons for bird hunting with lead ammunition. As hunters, veterinarians
are probably aware of the harmfulness of such behavior, but they prioritize their pleasure over environmental
concerns. This study examines Polish legal acts related to hunting by veterinarians and presents specic legal
provisions requiring and forbidding specic behaviors of veterinarians. According to the law on the profession
of the veterinary surgeon, members of this profession must not engage in bird hunting with lead ammunition.
The study discusses the difculty of changing the current situation and forcing Polish veterinary surgeons to
abandon bird hunting with toxic ammunition and to actively ght this practice. Veterinarians, in particular those
who are hunters, should actively oppose such forms of hunting that are harmful to the natural environment,
especially the hunting of game birds with lead ammunition.
In accordance with veterinary knowledge, ethics and deontology, all veterinarians should inform the public
about the harmfulness of eating game animals shot with lead ammunition, in particular with lead pellets.
Keywords: veterinary law and ethics, bird hunting, environmental pollution, lead poisoning
Med. Weter. 2020, 76 (7), 389-393390
Public authorities are obliged to prevent negative health
effects of environmental degradation (Article 68 of
the Constitution). In addition, the state shall ensure
ecological security and support civic initiatives for en-
vironmental protection (Article 74 of the Constitution).
Every citizen is obliged to take care of the natural
environment and is responsible for his or her negative
impact on it (Article 86 of the Constitution). A legal
denition of the natural environment is included in the
Environmental Protection Act, Article 3 section 39,
according to which this concept covers all elements
of nature, including biodiversity, and the interaction
between these elements (such as human impact) (3).
In light of the normative requirements for environ-
mental protection, it is not surprising that veterinary
surgeons may be subject to additional obligations re-
garding environmental protection, which are directly
related to their profession of public trust.
This study analyzes the Polish law regulating veteri-
narian practice as well as hunting rights. The authors
present arguments indicating the need for veterinarians
to refrain from participation in certain types of hunt-
ing (2). This applies in particular to hunting for game
birds (2, 22). Moreover, according to the law, Polish
veterinarians, both in gremio and in personam, should
oppose certain forms of hunting and hunting for certain
species of animals (2).
Polish legal norms and participation
of veterinarians in hunting
To begin with, it should be noted that the knowledge
of current legal provisions related to the pursuit of the
veterinary profession is a statutory duty of a veterinary
surgeon from the moment of his receiving the right
to practice this profession (2). This study analyzes
selected normative acts regulating the practice of the
veterinary surgeon and hunting, in particular the Act on
the Profession of the Veterinary surgeon and Veterinary
Chambers, and the Hunting Law along with executive
acts (1, 2). The study indicates legal regulations forbid-
ding or requiring veterinarians to take certain actions
in specic situations related to their profession.
The Act on the Profession
of the Veterinary Surgeon
The Act on the Profession of the Veterinary Surgeon
and Chambers of Veterinary Medicine obliges veteri-
narians to protect the natural environment and public
health. In addition this act requires that this profession
be exercised with particular care and in accordance
with the principles of veterinary ethics and veterinary
deontology (art. 4 of this Act) (Act 1990). Another
legal provision imposing an obligation on representa-
tives of this profession to comply with the principles
of veterinary ethics and veterinary deontology is pro-
vided in Article 19 of the Act (2). Therefore, abidance
by the principles of ethics is a legal obligation for
The veterinary Code of Ethics (
weterynarii.pdf) in Poland is enacted by the National
Convention of Veterinary Physicians (Article 37 of the
Act on the Profession of the Veterinary Surgeon). For
acting in violation of these standards, veterinarians are
answerable in veterinary courts. According to this code,
the protection of public health and the natural environ-
ment is a responsibility of every veterinarian (Article 1
of the Code of Ethics). Article 4 of the Code requires
veterinarians to be persons of honesty, integrity and the
high personal culture. Article 5 obliges veterinarians
to know the current law relevant to their profession.
Worth noting are also requirements contained in Article
30 of the Code of Ethics. Subparagraph 1 is worth quot-
ing in its entirety: “It is a responsibility of veterinarians
to respect and, if possible, promote animal rights and
respect the basic principles of sozology.” According
to the wording of subparagraph 2, a veterinarian is
obliged to draw the attention of the public and public
authorities to irregularities concerning, among oth-
ers, protection of public health, health protection and
ecological threats. The last article of the Code refers
to the professionals’ liability for non-compliance with
the provisions of the Code.
Hunting law and implementing regulations
The Hunting Law Act (1) denes hunting as, among
others, an element of protection of the natural envi-
ronment, that is, protection of animals in accordance
with the principles of ecology (Article 1). According
to the Act, one of the purposes of hunting is to protect
and shape the natural environment in such a way as
to improve the living conditions of animals (Article 3
(2)). The Act prohibits hunting for animals other than
legally huntable game species and hunting during
the closed season for specic animal species (Article
42aa). Moreover, according to art. 4 par. 3 of this Act,
harvesting animals in violation of the conditions of
admissibility of hunting is considered poaching.
The ordinance of the Minister of the Environment
on the detailed conditions of hunting and marking of
carcasses provides a number of rules applicable to
hunting (52). Paragraph 6 of the Regulation forbids
hunting for birds that are not ying (except hazel
grouse (Bonasa bonasia), geese and coot (Fulica atra))
and for unrecognizable birds. Geese and ducks can also
be hunted at night (§ 7). According to paragraph 13.1.,
aiming at game and shooting is allowed only after per-
sonal and accurate recognition of the game and under
conditions that guarantee the effectiveness of the shot
and the ability to retrieve the shot game (§ 13.2.). The
ordinance makes it possible to carry out mass hunts
involving critters and dogs (§ 25).
The Ordinance of the Minister of the Environment
species more than a dozen species of birds that can
be hunted in Poland, including hazel grouse, pheas-
ant (Phasianus colchicus), partridge (Perdix perdix),
Med. Weter. 2020, 76 (7), 389-393 391
greylag goose (Anser anser), taiga bean goose (Anser
fabalis), greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons),
mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), common teal (Anas
crecca), common pochard (Aythya ferina), tufted duck
(Aythya fuligula), common wood pigeon (Columba
palumbus), Eurasian woodcock (Scolopax rusticola),
and coot (Fulica atra) (50).
The ordinance of the Minister of the Environment
on establishing hunting periods for game animals con-
tains information on hunting periods, among others,
for game birds (51).
In the Polish veterinary community, the issue of vet-
erinary surgeons hunting does not arouse much interest.
The few published articles present personal views of
their authors rather than legal arguments (21, 31, 47).
This situation indicates the passivity of most veterinary
surgeons and their self-government in a matter that is
explicitly dealt with by veterinary legislation. This is
especially worrying considering the threats resulting
from hunting with toxic ammunition, which are pre-
sented in a large number of scientic articles.
The above-mentioned legal provisions stipulate
that veterinarians should actively protect the natural
environment (2). How is it possible to reconcile this
obligation with bird hunting by veterinarians using lead
shot ammunition? It has long been a well-known fact
that this type of ammunition causes lead poisoning in
numerous animal species (7-9, 11, 16, 22, 24, 25, 34,
37, 39, 40, 44, 53). The most commonly used shotgun
cartridge No. 4 for shotguns caliber 12, contains about
200 pellets (20). Even in the case of an accurate shot,
the vast majority of projectiles fall to the ground or
water surface (22, 28). For example, if 10 hunters re
only 10 shots each on a hunting run, around 20,000
pellets drop within a small area during a single hunt.
During a hunting season, a habitat of bird life (e.g. wa-
ter reservoir) is used for hunting several times, so the
number of pellets in the season increases by an order
of magnitude. After ten years, the number of pellets
in such a place already reaches millions. Each hunt
with lead shot ammunition leads to signicant pollu-
tion of the natural environment (8, 16, 22, 28, 38, 53,
58-60). In addition, because of the shape and size of
lead pellets, many birds swallow them as gastroliths
(16, 22, 24, 28). According to legal requirements,
veterinarians must be aware of the negative impact of
lead on the health and survival of living organisms (not
only mammals and birds). Moreover, the law requires
veterinarians to refrain from behavior that negatively
affects the natural environment.
After leaving the barrel, the shotgun beam expands
in the form of a cone. Several dozen meters from the
barrel end, the diameter of the base of the cone exceeds
one meter. This results in individual pellets occasional
hitting non-target birds. In addition, inaccurate shots
injure birds with single pellets (22). To hit a duck in fast
ight, one has to aim as much as a few meters in front
of it. Among hunters there is the saying “one packet,
one duck,” which means that a packet of ammunition
(25 cartridges) needs to be red to hit a single duck. In
addition to injuries caused by the projectile, animals
are also poisoned by lead entering the bloodstream
from the pellets in their body (8, 20, 48). Birds from
various parts of Europe, including Poland, found dead
on wintering grounds had lead pellets in their bodies
(also in their stomach) (22, 44). This clearly demon-
strates the negative impact of hunting on the survival
of birds, and thus the negative impact on the natural
environment. Injured and lead-poisoned birds become
easy prey for predators (16, 34, 38, 49). Predators and
scavengers eating these dead or weakened birds are
also poisoned in their turn and often die (6, 32, 40).
The negative consequences of hunting with lead
ammunition do not affect only game animals. The
impact extends to other organisms living in hunting
areas, and often to animals living in places very dis-
tant from these areas, since most game birds belong
to migratory species (16, 22, 25, 38, 44). The negative
inuence of lead ammunition on game birds has been
conclusively conrmed by numerous observations and
eld studies (8, 11, 24, 54, 58-62). The above facts, as
well as the currently applicable law, must be known to
veterinarians. Therefore, according to the law (includ-
ing the code of ethics), veterinarians are not allowed to
participate in this kind of hunting. It is worth adding
that there is a directive requiring the protection of wild
birds within the European Union (17).
Another negative aspect of bird hunting with lead
shot is the shooting of species that have no economic
signicance and are not a threat to the balance in their
living environments (22). In Poland, this applies in
particular to hazel grouse, partridge, common teal,
common pochard, tufted duck, common wood pigeon,
coot and Eurasian woodcock. It is difcult to nd a rea-
son for hunting for tiny woodcocks other than to boast
of shooting such a bird. It seems that obtaining tiny
feathers of woodcock as hunting trophies (so-called
painting feathers) should be a source of shame rather
than pride, in particular for hunting veterinarians.
In the case of pheasants, it is necessary to consider
the ethical aspect of hunting. These birds are bred in
aviaries and special breeding centers and released into
hunting grounds in early autumn (51). This practice
would be commendable if we ignored its purpose.
These birds are hunted from the beginning of October
each year. Birds from aviaries are easy targets for hunt-
ers because they are not familiar with the area in which
they are released and they are not adapted to life in the
new environment. Participation in such hunting seems
to be directly contrary to the Act on the Profession of
the Veterinary Surgeon and, in the authors’ opinion, to
the ethics of hunting, as well (1).
Another problem raised by opponents of hunting
stems from the fact that certain species of ducks, in par-
ticular mallard and common teals, are game animals,
while garganeys (Spatula querquedula) are protected
Med. Weter. 2020, 76 (7), 389-393392
birds. A garganey is slightly smaller than a mallard and
a little bigger than a common teal. For this reason, it
is difcult to quickly determine the species of a bird
at the beginning of the hunting season (mid-August),
when birds hatched in the current year have not yet
reached their full size. In the case of battue hunting or
night hunting, such recognition is virtually impossible
(52). The authors know of cases of shooting, during
collective hunts, at such characteristic and easily recog-
nizable ducks as the northern shoveler (Anas clypeata),
which is a protected species. Organizations for protec-
tion of animals reveal cases of hunters killing protected
birds and posting their photos in social media (https://
chroniony/). Out of all the game duck species, the only
one of any economic importance, albeit marginal, is
the mallard duck. Since these birds can only be shot in
ight, it is worth pointing out that they are usually shot
in the pectoral muscles. These muscles, which are the
largest edible part of ducks, most often contain from
a few to a dozen or so pellets or wounds caused by
pellets. Lead is deposited around the edges of wound
canals and enters the human body during consumption
(5, 23, 26, 27, 29, 42, 61, 62). What is important, some
culinary procedures, such as adding vinegar or wine to
meat, often facilitate the absorption of lead from duck
meat by the human body (18, 43, 45).
Veterinarians are obliged to protect public health.
The harmfulness of bird meat obtained by hunting
with lead shot is an argument not only against this type
of hunting, but also against the consumption of such
meat. The results of tests for lead content in the meat
of game birds indicate high Pb levels (10, 44, 46, 56),
often in excess of 0.1 mg/g, which in the case of meat
from farm animals would disqualify such food as unt
for human consumption (15, 17, 19).
Lead is a foreign element in the natural environ-
ment (4, 13). It is believed that the smallest amounts
of this metal are toxic to living organisms (13). They
negatively affect the functioning of the nervous sys-
tem, including intellectual development (4, 12, 14, 35,
55). Lead poisoning in humans after consumption of
meat of animals obtained through hunting with lead
ammunition is described in the scientic literature (10,
26, 30, 33, 36, 41, 46, 56).
The facts and arguments presented here unequivo-
cally indicate that some forms of hunting, and bird
hunting in particular, are in conict with legal provi-
sions regarding veterinary surgeons. The law obliges
veterinary surgeons to actively oppose such practices.
In practice, it is impossible to charge hunting vet-
erinarians and bring them to justice. The collection of
evidence would be possible only during hunting, and
participation in hunting is not possible for bystanders.
The legal obligation of veterinarians to actively op-
pose practices threatening the natural environment is
also a dead letter because of the lack of sanctions for
failure to oppose such practices.
Regardless of the ethical attitude of hunting veteri-
narians, hunting cannot be regarded as positive, but it
is not prohibited for veterinarians to hunt in accordance
with applicable normative acts. At the same time, the
law directly prohibits veterinarians from activities that
can cause environmental damage. Members of this
profession should therefore refrain from certain forms
of hunting, in particular from hunting for game birds.
Veterinarians, in particular those who are hunters,
should actively oppose such forms of hunting that are
harmful to the natural environment, especially hunting
for game birds with the use of lead ammunition.
In accordance with veterinary knowledge, ethics and
deontology, all veterinarians should inform the public
about the harmfulness of eating game animals obtained
by shooting with lead ammunition, in particular with
lead pellets.
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Corresponding author: Dr Mariusz Z. Felsmann, Katedra Nauk Podsta-
wowych i Przedklinicznych, Instytut Medycyny Weterynaryjnej, UMK Toruń,
ul. Gagarina 7, 87-100 Toruń, Poland; e-mail:
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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Game meat may contain elevated concentrations of lead especially if lead-containing ammunition is used for hunting. Then a health risk is possible for consumer groups with high game meat intake. The lead concentrations in three edible parts (marketable meat from the area close to the wound channel, saddle and haunch) of meat from red deer (Cervus elaphus) between animals hunted either with lead or non‑lead ammunition were compared. Furthermore, lead levels in game meat of lead-shot red deer were compared with those of lead-shot roe deer and lead-shot wild boar. Ninety red deer were shot and killed in the context of this study (64 with lead and 26 with non‑lead ammunition). Since the lead concentration for a number of the samples was below the limit of detection or the limit of quantification, statistical methods for left-censored data were applied. The median concentrations of lead in game meat did not differ significantly between lead shot and non‑lead shot animals. However, when we analyzed the more elevated lead concentrations, they were significantly higher in edible parts of animals shot with lead ammunition than non-lead ammunition. The highest concentrations were found in samples from edible meat from the area close to the wound channel (max 3442 mg Pb/kg), followed by the saddle (max 1.14 mg Pb/kg) and with the lowest levels in the haunch (max 0.09 mg Pb/kg). A comparison of game species revealed that the lead concentration in haunch and saddle of lead shot red deer was higher than in the corresponding samples of lead shot roe deer. Our results have shown that by the use of non-lead ammunition, a significant reduction of the lead concentration especially in edible parts near the wound channel is possible.
Full-text available
Much evidence demonstrates the adverse effects of lead ammunition on wildlife, their habitats and human health, and confirms that the use of such ammunition has no place within sustainable hunting. We identify the provisions that define sustainable hunting according to European law and international treaties, together with their guidance documents. We accept the substantial evidence for lead’s actual and potential effects on wildlife, habitats and health as persuasive and assess how these effects relate to stated provisions for sustainability and hunting. We evaluate how continued use of lead ammunition negatively affects international efforts to halt loss of biodiversity, sustain wildlife populations and conserve their habitats. We highlight the indiscriminate and avoidable health and welfare impacts for large numbers of exposed wild animals as ethically unsustainable. In societal terms, continued use of lead ammunition undermines public perceptions of hunting. Given the existence of acceptable, non-toxic alternatives for lead ammunition, we conclude that hunting with lead ammunition cannot be justified under established principles of public/international policy and is not sustainable. Changing from lead ammunition to non-toxic alternatives will bring significant nature conservation and human health gains, and from the hunter’s perspective will enhance societal acceptance of hunting. Change will create opportunities for improved constructive dialogue between hunting stakeholders and others engaged with enhancing biodiversity and nature conservation objectives.
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Lead ammunition represents a source of poisoning for raptors eating game. Although the Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus commonly preys on gamebirds, only a few cases of lead poisoning have been recorded, probably owing to the lack of specific investigations. We document an adult female found dead with many lead shot in the digestive tract, mixed with the remains of a feral Pigeon Columba livia domestica and a European Starling Sturnus vulgaris. Concentrations in heart blood clot, liver, kidney and bone suggest that lead poisoning was not the ultimate cause of death. However, lead levels in the blood clot suggest that a small amount of lead may have been absorbed from the shot. The two prey species involved cannot be hunted in Italy but they are intensively shot all year round to prevent damage to crops.-Andreotti, A., Fabbri, I., Menotta, S. & Borghesi, F. (2018). Lead gunshot ingestion by a Peregrine Falcon.
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Anthropogenic effects affecting the environment are the cause of negative changes in living organisms linked with it trophically, including migratory birds such as mallard ducks. Studies were carried out on 25 Mallard ducks Anas platyrhynchos L. (n = 25) culled in the rural area (Pomerania-Kuiavia Province, near Chełmno) in the late summer and autumn of 2007 by shooting with lead pellets. The birds were divided into four groups based on age (older than 1 year and about 5 months) and sex and examined macroscopically and microscopically (specimens of liver, kidneys, cardiac muscle, lungs, spleen, superficial breast muscle, glandular stomach and gizzard, duodenum, jejunum, caecum, and bursa of Fabricius). In each of the adult birds, morphological microscopic lesions were observed in at least three organs. In turn, amongst the young ducks only 56 % of birds demonstrated such lesions which appeared to affect smaller areas and were less intensive. In both age groups of the birds the greatest number of morphological changes was observed in superficial breast muscle (8 %), liver (6 %) and kidneys (5 %). They mostly included circulatory disorders and retrogressive changes, followed by less frequent inflammations and sporadic progressive changes. The occurrence of the higher number of morphological lesions with a greater intensity in birds over 1 year of age points to greater exposure to environmental effects as well as to potential accumulation of pathogenic factors in those birds.
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Non-lead hunting rifle bullets were developed to make superior quality ammunition, and the need to reduce lead exposure of wildlife and humans. European and US hunters’ concerns about non-lead bullets involve perceptions of availability, costs, efficacy, accuracy, toxicity, and barrel fouling. These concerns are politically powerful and, if not addressed, could thwart greater use of non-lead ammunition. Product availability (i.e. that which is made) of non-lead rifle ammunition in a wide range of calibres is large in Europe and is suited for all European hunting situations. At least 13 major European companies make non-lead bullets for traditional, rare, and novel rifle calibres. Local retail availability is now a function of consumer demand which relates, directly, to legal requirements for use. Costs of non-lead and equivalent lead-core hunting bullets are similar in Europe and pose no barrier to use. Efficacy of non-lead bullets is equal to that of traditional lead-core bullets. Perceptions of reduced accuracy and greater barrel fouling must be addressed by industry and hunter organizations and, if verified, resolved. Non-lead bullets are made in fragmenting and non-fragmenting versions, but there is no advice to hunters yet given on the use of these two bullet types. The non-toxicity of ingested metallic copper, the principal component of non-lead bullets, is scientifically well-established.
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ABSTRACT Wild meat often retains metallic particles originating from the ammunition fired by hunters. Since ammunition are traditionally lead (Pb)-based, the consumption of game meat may entail the ingestion of Pb embedded in tissues. To assess the related risks to human health, information is needed on the number, dimension and spatial distribution of Pb particles embedded in popular quarry species. In this study, we focused on the Eurasian woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), a medium-sized bird intensively hunted across its range. We X-rayed 59 carcasses of woodcock shot by Italian hunters in Ukraine. To check the ammunition types and evaluate the mean weight of the embedded gunshot, we excised a sample of 62 whole pellets from 20 birds. Ammunition residues were found in 57 of the 59 woodcock (96.6%). Radiographs revealed 215 whole pellets and 125 fragmentation centres in 51 (mean¼3.64) and in 48 birds (mean¼2.14), respectively. Most fragmentation centres (75.7%) contained tiny particles (<1mm). The overall estimated Pb load ranged from 45 to 52 mg/100 g wet weight, most of which (84.6%) in edible parts. The number of embedded pellets per unit of body mass (1.21/100 g of body weight) was higher in comparison with other bird species and also with woodcock shot in the UK, presumably owing to the hunting methods adopted by Italian hunters. The quantity and characteristics of ammunition residues we found suggest that game meat consumers are exposed to a relevant Pb assumption.
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The pollution of wetlands by lead derived from waterfowl hunting with lead shot was investigated. We determined soil pellet density and Pb concentration in soil, water and vegetation in natural wetlands and rice fields in central-eastern Santa Fe province, Argentina. Pellet density varied greatly among hunting sites (between 5.5-141 pellets/m(2)) and pellets were present in some control sites. Soil Pb concentration in most hunting sites (approximately 10-20mgkg(-1)) was not much higher than in control sites (~5-10mgkg(-1)), with the exception of the site with highest pellet density, which also had a high Pb soil concentration. In water, on the other hand, Pb concentration was similar in all sites (~4-7μgL(-1)), both control and hunting, and higher than reference values for aquatic media. Lead was also present in vegetation, including grasses and rice crops, in almost all cases. Most soil-collection sites were slightly acidic, and were frequently flooded. These results strongly suggest that metallic Pb from spent shot is oxidized and dissolved due to wetland conditions. Thus, the pollutant is readily mobilized and distributed across all wetland areas, effectively homogenizing its concentration in locations with and without hunting activities. The replacement of lead by nontoxic materials in pellets appears to be the only effective way to prevent Pb pollution in wetlands.
Vultures and condors (hereafter vultures) make up one the most threatened avian guilds in the world due to a variety of human-mediated impacts and disturbances. In fact, 70% of vulture species are currently suffering impacted by significant conservation threats, with lead contamination being particularly important. Unfortunately, lead contamination in vulture species remains poorly studied in many regions of the world. We reviewed the existing scientific knowledge about this threat to vultures. We found 62 scientific articles studying lead contamination in vultures. Seventy-two percent of these articles were from North America and Europe, with the rest corresponding to Asia (13%), South America (8%), and Africa (7%). Most (92%) were published recently (2001–2018). Published articles included information on 13 vulture species out of a total of 23 from both the Old (9) and New World (4). Eighty-eight percent of the articles showed individuals with lead concentrations above threshold levels in some tissues sampled, with New World (Cathartidae) vultures more affected than Old World vultures (Accipitridae). The most suspected but rarely probed source of lead was lead ammunition, but other sources such as pollution or industry were also reported. It is concerning that lead contamination is considered a major threat for just 8% (2/23) of the vulture species categorized by the IUCN Red list. Our review shows that lead contamination is an important threat for several vulture species worldwide, but remains undiagnosed and not well-recognized in some species and geographical areas. The effect of this contaminant on vulture demography is not well known but merits particular attention since it may be leading to population declines in several species.
In European wetlands, at least 40 bird species are exposed to the risk of lead poisoning caused by ingestion of spent lead gunshot. Adopting a methodology developed in North America, we estimated that about 700,000 individuals of 16 waterbird species die annually in the European Union (EU) (6.1% of the wintering population) and one million in whole Europe (7.0%) due to acute effects of lead poisoning. Furthermore, threefold more birds suffer sub-lethal effects. We assessed the economic loss due to this lead-induced mortality of these 16 species by calculating the costs of replacing lethally poisoned wild birds by releasing captive-bred ones. We assessed the cost of buying captive-bred waterbirds for release from market surveys and calculated how many captive-bred birds would have to be released to compensate for the loss, taking into account the high mortality rate of captive birds (72.7%) in the months following release into the wild. Following this approach, the annual cost of waterbird mortality induced by lead shot ingestion is estimated at 105 million euros per year in the EU countries and 142 million euros in the whole of Europe. An alternative method, based upon lost opportunities for hunting caused by deaths due to lead poisoning, gave similar results of 129 million euros per year in the EU countries and 185 million euros per year in the whole of Europe. For several reasons these figures should be regarded as conservative. Inclusion of deaths of species for which there were insufficient data and delayed deaths caused indirectly by lead poisoning and effects on reproduction would probably increase the estimated losses substantially. Nevertheless, our results suggest that the benefits of a restriction on the use of lead gunshot over wetlands could exceed the cost of adapting to non-lead ammunition.
Blood lead levels in children have declined, and the level of concern specified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now is 10 μg/dL. It is not clear, however, whether cognitive deficits consequent to lead exposure are a problem at blood lead levels less than 10 μg/dL. This study estimated blood lead concentrations in 172 children at ages 6, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, and 60 months. At ages 3 and 5 years, the children were tested with the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, an instrument that evaluates vocabulary, spatial pattern analysis, quantitative ability, and memory. Intelligence quotient (IQ) was related to blood lead levels after adjusting for maternal IQ, quality of the home environment, and other potentially confounding factors. Mean blood lead levels were lowest at age 6 months (3.4 μg/dL) and maximal at age 2 years (9.7 μg/dL). By age 5, the mean level was 6 μg/dL. The lifetime average blood lead level was 7.7 μg/dL at age 3 years and 7.4 μg/dL at age 5. The proportions of children with peak lead levels below 10 μg/dL were 57.0% and 55.8% at ages 3 and 5 years, respectively. At both these ages, the mean IQ (composite score) was approximately 90. After adjusting for numerous covariates, IQ correlated inversely and significantly with blood lead concentration. An increase in the lifetime average blood lead level of 1 μg/dL correlated with a change in IQ of -0.46. The estimated overall difference in IQ for each 1-μg/dL increase in lifetime average lead level was -1.37 points. Other significant predictors of IQ included maternal IQ, material income, and the child's birth weight. These findings suggest that substantially more children in the United States undergo adverse cognitive change from environmental exposure to lead than was previously thought. Primary prevention is essential in view of the lack of effective treatment for children with moderate blood lead elevations.