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
MARIUSZ Z. FELSMANN, JÓZEF SZAREK*,
IRENEUSZ SOŁTYSZEWSKI**, JUSTYNA KARAŹNIEWICZ***
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 specic 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 specic legal
provisions requiring and forbidding specic 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 difculty 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
denition 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 specic 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 (http://vetpol.org.
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) denes 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 specic 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
species 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 scientic 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 signicant 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
inuence of lead ammunition on game birds has been
conclusively conrmed 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
signicance 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 difcult 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 difcult 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 unt
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 scientic 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 conict 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
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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: email@example.com