The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) has requested the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM) to assess the significance of lead exposure to the Norwegian population by consumption of game meat including meat from farmed deer, when the animals are shot with lead-based ammunition.
Further, VKM was asked to describe the distribution of lead from ammunition in the carcass and to estimate the tissue area associated with the wound channel that has to be removed in order to reduce the risk.
VKM was also asked to present, if any, other appropriate measures in addition to removing tissue in order to limit the content of lead residues from ammunition in cervid meat.
Finally, VKM was asked to assess the significance of lead exposure to the health of dogs if they were fed with trimmings from the wound channel.
Lead can be used in rifle ammunition for cervid hunting, but the use of lead shots for smaller animals including wild birds has been prohibited in Norway since 2005.
The risk assessment of human lead exposure from cervid meat consumption has been performed by the VKM Panel on contaminants
The current risk assessment is restricted to lead exposure from cervid meat consumption. Cervid animals include moose, red deer, fallow deer, roe deer, and wild reindeer.
VKM has assessed the potential health risk associated with lead exposure from cervid meat, and not the benefits or nutritional value of eating cervid meat.
Lead concentration in blood is considered to be a good indicator of lead exposure.
The blood lead concentrations measured in participants in the Norwegian population studies are in the range of, and partly exceeding, the reference values for increased risk of high blood pressure and increased prevalence of chronic kidney disease in adults, and for neurodevelopmental effects in children.
The additional lead exposure from cervid meat in frequent (monthly or more often) consumers of such meat is therefore of concern.
At the individual level, the risk for adverse effect is likely to be small. At present lead levels, adults with for example normal blood pressure will most likely not experience any clinical symptoms by a small increase, although it may add to the burden of those individuals who are at risk of experiencing cardiovascular disease.
A small reduction in the intelligence of children will not be notable at the individual level, but at the population level it can for instance increase the proportion not able to graduate from school.
Lead exposure was declining in the population on which the reference value for increased prevalence of chronic kidney disease was based.
EFSA noted that this reference value (15 μg/L) is likely to be numerically lower than necessary.
The implications of having a concurrent blood lead concentration above the reference value cannot fully be interpreted, since it is not known when and at which level of lead exposure the kidney disease was initiated.
However, an eventual increased risk of chronic kidney disease would be higher among those who consume cervid meat regularly or often than those who rarely consume such meat.
For these reasons, continued effort is needed in order to reduce lead exposure in the population.