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After a lengthy wait, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its test results Wednesday showing that people who eat wild game shot with lead bullets appear to have higher levels of lead in their blood than people who don’t.

The study tested blood collected from 738 North Dakotans in late May and early June 2008.

“In the study, people who ate a lot of wild game tended to have higher lead levels than those who ate little or none,” said Stephen Pickard, M.D., North Dakota Department of Health epidemiologist said in a press release. “The study also showed that the more recent the consumption of wild game harvested with lead bullets, the higher the level of lead in the blood.”

The lead levels among study participants ranged from none detectable to 9.82 micrograms per deciliter. Wild game consumption among study participants ranged from zero to heavy consumption. Some study participants had no identifiable risk factors for lead exposure while others had more than one potential risk factor for lead exposure.

  “No single study can claim to be the final answer; however, this represents the best information we have to date to guide policy recommendations,” Pickard said. “Because we know that lead exposure can cause serious health problems, especially for children and pregnant women, we are providing more definitive guidelines for hunters and others who may eat wild game shot with lead bullets.”

Based on the results of the CDC blood lead level study and a Minnesota study looking at how different types of bullets fragment, the North Dakota Department of Health has developed the following recommendations to minimize the risk of harm to people who are most vulnerable to the effects of lead:

  • Pregnant women and children younger than 6 should not eat any venison harvested with lead bullets.

  • Older children and other adults should take steps to minimize their potential exposure to lead, and use their judgment about consuming game that was taken using lead-based ammunition.

  • The most certain way of avoiding lead bullet fragments in wild game is to hunt with nonlead bullets.

  • Hunters and processors should follow the processing recommendations developed by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

If food pantries choose to accept donated venison or other wild game, they should follow these recommendations:

  • Shot with lead bullets – Accept only whole cuts rather than ground meat. (Studies indicate that whole cuts appear to contain fewer lead bullet fragments than ground venison.)
  • Shot with bows – Accept whole cuts or ground meat.

A fact sheet and other information about the lead-in-venison issue is available on the North Dakota Department of Health’s Web site. Information about the Minnesota bullet study is also available online.

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