This hunting season, check for lead ammo

Lead shot can infect meat. That can harm those eating it

This article is part of a continuing series on lead threats and lead safety by the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes. Tina Reynolds, MEC’s environmental health program director, heads the coalition. MEC health policy intern Hailey Dunn wrote the article. Learn more at

Deer Hunting season is upon us! In a time of being told to stay indoors and out of the public due to COVID-19, some of us are finding comfort in our favorite hunting spots.

Many hunters share the venison they get with family and friends to enjoy; some donate the meat. One organization’s specific mission is to feed Michigan’s hungry with donated venison from successful hunters. Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger has donated 831,519 pounds of venison to food banks around Michigan since 1991. This has fed 3,326,076 adults and children. Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger is partnered with the Food Bank Council of Michigan. The foodbank network has over 2,500 agencies -- such as church pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters -- in every county. 

In Michigan, there are 318,960 children, about one in seven, struggling with hunger, according to a Feeding America report. A 2014 Michigan Hunger Study showed that 1,792,200 people seek food assistance annually, and 37% of them are in households with children under 18.

Unfortunately, the thousands of children and adults that eat donated meat each year could be poisoned by lead. Lead ammunition often leaves lead bullet fragments that frequently end up in processed venison. 

According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, lead fragments from lead ammunition can be found far from the wound channels in meat. These lead fragments are so small that they cannot be seen during processing. Lead can be harmful to humans even at low levels since it is a neurotoxin, affecting the brain and the rest of the central nervous system. Lead’s ability to stunt development makes it especially dangerous to children and infants.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture recommends the following to minimize lead contamination: “Use care when selecting meat for grinding. Do not use deer with excessive shot damage. Trim a generous distance away from the bullet wound channel and discard any meat that is bruised, discolored, or contains hair, dirt, bone fragments, or grass.”

 A PLOS One study investigated how much lead from lead ammunition was found in 234 ground venison packages made from 30 and sent to 30 different meat processors. 32% of the resulting packages contained at least one metal fragment, and 93% of all fragments were positively identified as lead. 

The same researchers fed the venison that contained lead fragments to four pigs. The pigs which ate the venison had blood lead concentrations significantly higher than the pigs who ate venison without lead fragments. The study concluded that people risk ingesting lead when they eat venison from deer killed with lead bullets. 

A major reason why policymakers hesitate to mandate the switch to safer non-lead bullets is because of a perceived cost increase.  However, the price of non-lead ammunition is the same as premium lead ammunition, sometimes even less. 

Another argument against the switch to lead-free ammunition revolves around fear about “performance.” Non-lead bullets perform differently than lead but are as effective. Non-lead bullets expand but maintain intact, meaning no small fragments left in the meat. 

The Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes (MIALSH) is working to remove all sources of lead in our environment to keep kids and families safe. A move to lead-free ammunition makes sense and is something to keep in mind during hunting season in Michigan, whether you are providing meat for your family or donating it to a family in need.


Anyone can join MIALSH. Those interested should contact Tina Reynolds, MIALSH organizer and MEC environmental health director, at [email protected].


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  • Beau Brockett
    published this page in News 2020-12-04 10:05:59 -0500