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Research Into Lead Levels In Meat From Hunters

You can’t smell it, taste it, or see it, but we’ve known for some time that eating or inhaling lead leads to lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning is preventable, and the risk of exposure has been reduced by replacing old pipes, removing lead in petrol and paints and other strategies. However, people who eat animals shot with lead bullets may be at risk from lead exposure.

A research team at NMIT has been part of an international consortium researching the use of lead ammunition in hunting.

Eric Buenz, NMIT tutor on the applied research training scheme and a keen hunter, recently published an article in Rod & Rifle magazine which outlines some of their findings, explaining why certain countries are moving to non-lead ammunition and recruit's participants for a study

He says his interest started when he met a fellow hunter, who ate a lot of self-harvested meat, and was experiencing weight loss and gout symptoms. A blood test showed he had high lead levels, and the suspected source was from lead fragments found in the meat of animals he’d shot.

"My concern is for hunters, their families and anyone being offered venison or game meat who have no idea of how it processed or killed," says Eric.

The consortium’s research results have been published in top journals in the world including the American Journal of Medicine, the Internal Medicine Journal (for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians) and many other publications.

Eric says he has had mixed feedback since his research findings have been made public.

"I have had some threats from hunters, and some physicians who don’t believe it is a concern. Some people have thanked us for raising this issue, and others are not so keen."

He says in New Zealand everyone who hunts uses lead bullets and it is expensive to swap to non-lead ammunition.

Recently the project received financial support from the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust, which is not common for a polytechnic. This funding will enable Eric and his colleagues to see if there are other people who have high levels of lead from eating anything shot with lead bullets.

"We are asking for hunters to send a package of frozen mince from an animal they’ve shot, and the sample will be analysed for lead levels. The grant will pay for the analysis and freight and enable us to buy a freezer to store the samples," Eric says.

"We also want samples from hunters who use lead-free ammunition, to allow a comparison between types of ammunition."

Anyone wishing to take part in the study can emailing Research.Admin@nmit.ac.nz with their contact details.

The research team has also applied for National Geographic Explorer status and if successful they are hoping to fund a kea project.

"This involves putting kea proof cameras over a dead animal to see how often they eat dead carcasses -we will eventually test them for lead levels."

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