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March 28, 2008

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Lead-in-meat ‘study’ unnecessarily alarmist

As much as it sounds like an April Fool’s gag, the news this week from North Dakota was serious as a funeral. Or medical malpractice.

The Associated Press reports that a North Dakota dermatologist and self-described “long-time hunter” found microscopic lead fragments in about 60 percent of the packages of ground venison he collected from local food pantries.

The story quotes the Bismarck dermatologist, Dr. William Cornatzer, as describing the fragments as “lead dust” and recommends that meat from deer shot with high-velocity lead bullets not be eaten.

State health officials subsequently told food pantries that received venison through the Sportsmen Against Hunter program to throw out the donated meat because of its alleged health implications.

In its story, which shock waves through wildlife agencies and hunters’ forums, the AP went on to describe the dire symptoms of lead poisoning, but reported that “no sickness has been reported from lead-tainted venison” in North Dakota.

This “study” has some profound implications.

Are we hunters really injecting poison in the meat we bring home to feed our families? If so, then we need to know how we can help stop the epidemic. Is this North Dakota study just the leading edge of a public-health and conservation tsunami that will change the way we hunt? Will we start viewing the succulent backstrap from last fall’s buck not as healthy, fat-, hormone- and antibiotic-free protein but as contamination that can cause “confusion, learning problems and convulsions… brain damage and death,” as the AP reports?

Coming on the heels of California’s ban on lead bullets in the historic range of the endangered California condor, this news report from North Dakota would be especially unsettling if it wasn’t so flimsy.

For starters, the source of the health scare is suspect, even if his motivations are pure. Dr. William Cornatzer is a dermatologist, not an epidemiologist. Plus, he is on the board of The Peregrine Fund, an Idaho-based non-profit dedicated to raptor conservation that has lobbied hard to ban lead from condor country. The group is holding a conference in May entitled “Ingestion of Spent Lead Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans” (www.peregrinefund.org/Lead_conference/). Is Dr. Cornatzer’s study designed to foment outrage over home-freezer contamination leading up to the conference?

Then there’s the scientific validity of the study itself. Cornatzer’s initial investigation found detectable levels of lead in 53 of the 100 one-pound packages of ground venison he tested, according to the AP. That’s significant, but is it replicable? A follow-up study by North Dakota’s state health department found lead in all five samples of venison it tested. Disturbing, yes. But not as disturbing as the actions of public-health officials who extrapolated from this tiny sample that all hunter-harvested venison should be discarded.

Then there’s the oh-really nature of this report. I’m no Butcher Shop CSI forensic analyst, but I have a very hard time imagining lead “dust” in the hindquarters of my lung-shot deer. I have cut out jellied, bloodshot meat from many a front shoulder, but have difficulty believing that a bullet that passed through left debris in the backstraps or in the rump roasts.

But then, I butcher all my game myself whenever possible. For me, it’s the satisfying conclusion to a successful hunt, cutting and wrapping and labeling packages of protein that will sustain my family for the next year. And I am very careful that the meat I preserve isn’t contaminated with hair, dirt or blood.

I don’t like taking my meat to commercial butchers because I don’t know how they will handle it. Will they take the same care I do to trim off bloodshot meat? Can I be sure I’m getting my own meat back? Do they grind unblemished meat with some that may be compromised? Most butchers do a top-notch job, but some probably cut corners. Did the Bismarck samples come from shoddy meat shops? Maybe a follow-up study should look at practices in commercial meat shops and not implicate hunters who kill animals with lead bullets.

Or maybe a study should investigate the prevalence of lead poisoning in hunters’ families. As in the very real lead-paint epidemic of the 1960s, there should be evidence of the problem in the population.

If I’m poisoning my family, I want to stop. And if bullet-spraying hunters are a public-health menace, let’s discover the depth of the problem and systematically resolve it. But I want to make those decisions based on peer-reviewed science, not alarmist do-gooding.

- Andrew McKean



I think you mean the "Sportsmen Against Hunger" program in paragraph four, not the "Sportsmen Against Hunter" program.

steve thompson

DO YOU BELIVE EVERYTHING YOU READ ? NO DOUBT this is just another attempt to discredit hunters that are willing to share thier harvest.If there was any truth to this then we have been ingesting lead dust for centuries,with no effect evident.For years animals were slaughtered with lead bullets with no effect .Now and then common sense is thrown out when told the sky is falling/we all have to eat a little dirt before we die. GOOD GRIEF''


I have always wondered about this very issue.

To the point about lead being spread throughout the whole body cavity of an animal. Some bullet manufactures use lead that is formulated to become semi-liquid at super high velocities. I believe this is what accounts for some of the loss of mass.

It doesn't take a massive dose of lead--especially in children--to cause severe health issues. I remember reading an article about tumbling spent brass a few years ago that indicated the amount of lead residue found on and in 100 pieces of brass was something like three times what was considered a safe exposure level.

Also, to those who say, "well we have been using lead bullets for years." I would just point out that the average life span of an American was about forty years not so long ago. And in many cases, the cause of death was ultimately listed as unknown (generally expressed as, "the result of natural causes"). I am not saying that lead exposure was the cause in these deaths; rather, I am just pointing out that technology is allowing us to become ever more aware of the hazards we face.

Finally, the original post mentioned processing game and the benefits of processing at home rather than at a commercial shop. While I do not wish to stereotype all processors, I have been around and known several people who owned commercail operations, and I can tell you that it is not economically feasible for them to process each animal individually. I think most of the mid to large scale operations weigh the animals as they come in, and then redistribute a corresponding amount of meat from the animals that are processed that day. Like I said, this is probably not true for all operations, but it has been the case at the ones I have experience with.

Scott in Ohio

DIFFICULT to believe. I have some past OSHA experience in training workers on exposure to lead levels. It is more likely that the levels came from the processing process i.e. machinery, additives, butcher paper, etc. I'd start looking at the machinery and grinders used at the processing location first. I have a VERY hard time believing that a lead bullet would contaminate the back strap or hind-quarter of a lung shot deer; though grinding and mixing these parts would distribut any contamination (biological or mineral) throughout the meat.

Lastly the guy is a dermatoloist and therefore not really qualified to test or determine the root cause of the contamination. They don't call it ROOT Cause Analysis for nothing

Windy Wilson

Also, why am I suspicious that the only things this long-time hunter has hunted are parking spaces?

LeRoy Blowers Sr

I to have OSHA experience in training workers on exposure to lead levels. if this has been happening it would have been found long ago, I know that they have used bullets to kill before slaughtering animals, and now that it has come up it will be checked out to end this scare as other scares. We will soon know if we need to go to plastic bullets.


While this may indeed be an isolated incident or perhaps and error altogether, I find it odd that so many would dismiss this information without considering it.

What if he's right? What if many people are eating lead contaminated meat? What if we have been feeding our children lead contaminted meat? Why not do some testing? Find out if he's right or wrong.

What does it hurt?


To the comments of Windy Wilson. Dr. Cornatzer has hunted and fished more days than most. This is a man that harvests 3 to 4 big game animals a year and countless upland birds and waterfowl. Most recently a big Aoudad Sheep with me in West Texas. He is not out to hurt hunting or the industry that supports hunting. He has a obligation as a physician / scientist to release these findings no matter what the outcome. I agree with JSTREET'S comment that "why dismiss the data without considering it". As an adult you can shoot and consume venison with whatever bullet you wish as long as it is within the rules and regs of your states game agency. But if you have children that you feed your venison to shouldnt you make the best educated decision possible for there health and well being? Alot of people are discrediting the findings of the study because Dr. Cornatzer is a Dermatologist. Can anyone show me any data that suggests these findings are indeed FALSE and unfounded? The best thing about this study is that it will inspire more research.


Interesting discussion, if nothing else. I just did a response of my own over on my blog (The Hog Blog) with a bit of research into the issue.

There's no solid evidence that lead ammo causes increased lead levels in human consumers, or at least not at dangerous levels. However, children are more susceptible to poisoning by ingestion, so more research is definitely warranted.

Is the Peregrine Fund's agenda behind this? I don't know, and don't really care. If someone can prove one way or the other, then I'll take stock of it again... but in the meantime, I believe this is really too much ado about nothing.


The health department in North Dakota confirmed lead contamination in some of the packages that Dr. Cornatzer tested.

Now I would like to know, how much lead, how harmful to people, and how did it get there?

This story has a long way to go before it's over.



I want to know how Dr. Cornatzer picked these packages, and what his protocols were.

His opinion is just that ... opinion. An opinion of a named member of a group that has a beef against lead bullets.

If it ain't properly peer reviewed, it ain't science.


I think there should be more extensive testing done by the FDA, or other governent agencys before we jump to conclusions. I also think more things, such as birds taken with lead shot should be tested as well.


Why doesn't some hunting organization go out, hire an independant researcher, shoot and clean and cut out the bloodshot meat, butcher it and test it. Put an end to this bs.This sounds like the typical hypochondriac bs you hear so much of today, except with ulterior motives.

Old Ironsights

IIRC the original report talked about POWDERED lead (or lead "dust") in the meat.

That is categorically impossible unless the meat in question has been tamperd with in processing.

Monolithic metallic lead will have completely outgassed any vaporized metal (almost immeasurable ammounts) well before impact with the animal. It's not like it retains a "bubble" of vaporized metal around it in flight. On impact, even "critical" impact against bone where the bullet can fragment, the bullet does not generate "dust". It FRAGMENTS - i.e. it breaks into recognizable chunks... that are thrown away along with the bloodshot (ruined) meat by a reasonable butcher.

OTOH it would be unbelieveably easy for someone to pour a teaspoon full of range dust (collected from any indoor range) into a batch of meat to get that kind of result.

This is a political fraud of the highest order. Follow the money. If he doesn't own stock in an "all copper" bullet company, he is one of the elite that can afford such ammunition... effectively pricing most hunters out of the sport.

Which is what the Anti-Guners and ARFs want anyway.

1911 RjB

November 6, 2008

Special Edition

CDC Study Shows No Health Risk
Associated with Traditional Ammunition

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study on human lead levels of hunters in North Dakota has confirmed what hunters throughout the world have known for hundreds of years, that consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition poses absolutely no health risk to people, including children, and that the call to ban lead ammunition was and remains a scare tactic being pushed by anti-hunting groups to forward their political agenda.

Today, additional information became available about the CDC study, originally released yesterday, that is important to disseminate to hunters, their families and the general public about the total and complete lack of any evidence of a human health risk from consuming game harvested using traditional ammunition. For instance, in the study the average lead level of the hunters tested was lower than that of the average American.

In the CDC's study, children's lead levels had a mean of just 0.88 micrograms per deciliter, which is less than half the national average for children and an infinitesimally small fraction of the level that the CDC considers to be of concern for children (10 micrograms per deciliter). Yet, despite the total and complete lack of any evidence from this study of the existence of a human health risk, the Department of Health nevertheless urges that children under 6 and pregnant women not eat venison harvested using traditional ammunition. The North Dakota Department of Health's recommendation is based on a "zero tolerance" approach to the issue of blood lead levels that is not supported by science or the CDC's guidelines.

To further put in perspective the claims concerning the safety of game harvested using traditional ammunition, consider this statement from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) -- a state agency that has conducted an extensive panel of blood-lead testing for more than 15 years: "IDPH maintains that if lead in venison were a serious health risk, it would likely have surfaced within extensive blood-lead testing since 1992 with 500,000 youth under 6 and 25,000 adults having been screened." It has not.

Read the NSSF press release.

NSSF's Mission Statement

"Our purpose is to provide trusted leadership in addressing industry challenges and in delivering programs and services to meet the identified needs of our members."

Click here to visit the NSSF Web site and see how we accomplish this mission.

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Found this on anouther site thought it might be useful