Published October 21, 2010, 11:23 PM

OUTDOORS: To eat or not to eat: The debate over lead ammunition and healthy eating

WORTHINGTON — I got a call from a reader the other day asking about the consumption of wild game and if there were any measurable health hazards of doing so. This question really boiled down to whether game that was killed by a lead bullet or lead birdshot was dangerous for humans to consume.

By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — I got a call from a reader the other day asking about the consumption of wild game and if there were any measurable health hazards of doing so. This question really boiled down to whether game that was killed by a lead bullet or lead birdshot was dangerous for humans to consume.

This has been a question in the back of my mind and a source of agitation, which I will address later in the column. I started researching this issue with a certain set of preconceived notions. I have hunted pheasants with lead shot for more than 30 years. I use lead shot shells because they have the greatest killing power.

You can debate this for the next 30 years, but in my book they work better by a large margin. This means more clean kills and less lost cripples. As a hunter, I think I have a responsibility to bring all of the game I shoot to the bag. Lead shot helps me do just that. Have I swallowed some lead pellets over that time period? I am sure I have, and I have never worried about it.

What I found in my lead poisoning research is that depending on who you are and what it is you are trying to convince people of, the same information can be twisted to support both sides of the issue. Facts are facts, but how they are presented can have a profound influence on your decision on this issue.

Those who would like to ban lead ammunition will quote a study that was done in North Dakota a few years back. The researchers tested children and adults who consumed wild game and another group who didn’t. What they found was that the group who ate wild game had higher lead blood levels than those who didn’t. If this was all of the information you received, then it might seem reasonable to sound an alarm and support a ban on lead ammunition.

The numbers are as follows, the group who ate venison and other wild game shot with lead ammunition had a lead blood level of 1.27 micrograms per deciliter. The group of people who didn’t eat wild game killed with lead bullets had a lead blood level of .84 micrograms per deciliter. This translated into a 50 percent higher lead level for the hunting group. What a cause for alarm! Oh my goodness, this must mean all of these hunters and their families are surely going to die or suffer greatly from terrible and unhealthy lives.

What the group doing the research did not tell you is that both of the North Dakota study groups had much lower blood lead levels than the national average. The children in both of the North Dakota study groups had blood lead levels 50 percent or more below the national average. The Center for Disease Control states that any number below 10 micrograms per deciliter is considered safe. The group with the highest blood lead level of 1.27 micrograms per deciliter was at only 13 percent of what is considered safe. This no longer seems to be cause for alarm.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation deciphers this data to say that the small amount of lead ingested by hunters is so low that it poses no measureable health risks compared to the non-hunting general public. I concur with this finding in my mind. Once you see all of the data you can make a more informed decision. Unfortunately, it is really hard to get all of the data on the same page. I had to research more than 30 Internet sites to compile all of the needed information. Hunters have been consuming wild game since the inception of the firearm and almost all of the game taken in the past 200 years has been killed with ammunition made from lead.

Now I will share a frustration I have with the political correctness of today’s society. I had an idea (not a new idea by any means) to round up all of the members of the hunting community in our area of the state and urge them to donate all of their uneaten wild game to the area food shelves to help feed the needy, lower-income members of our community. This is the same game consumed by hunters over the prior year. What I learned was very disappointing. After investigating the possibilities, I was informed this product did meet the necessary quality requirements to be donated. Only game processed by a certified meat or game processor was eligible to be donated.

I asked myself, “Why is this meat good enough for me and my family, but not good enough to be consumed by those who have difficulty affording enough groceries to feed themselves and their families?” I was informed it was the lead. These folks must be only getting half of the story. I don’t know of any pheasant or deer hunters who would drive 100 miles to drop off a few pheasants or a deer in order for it to be processed in a manner fit for donation.

Bob’s Locker in Lismore used to be certified to process deer for donation, but the rules to stay certified were so cumbersome they gave it up. I have a hard time believing some state of Minnesota office bureaucrat can teach the folks at Bob’s Locker, or any other area locker for that matter, anything about processing anything.

It is my understanding southwest Minnesota has no certified processors for deer processing and donation. If I have missed someone, please let me know and I will get that information in this space next week. Hunters have always been very generous and we should get past all of the red tape and allow them to continue this tradition.

Lead in wild game is really a non-issue for me. There is one safety factor regarding lead that you do need to know about — it is dangerous to the cavity fillings in your teeth. Lead pellets can do a great job of knocking your filling loose, and that can be painful. I am planning a pheasant get-together tomorrow night and will be sure to remind all of my guests to chew carefully. There is a place for all wild game at my house, and that place is right next to the potatoes and gravy.