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anses

French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

Consumption of wild game: action needed to reduce exposure to chemical contaminants, and to lead in particular

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News of 23/03/2018

Today the Agency is publishing the results of its expert appraisal on the health risks associated with the consumption of wild game and the environmental chemical contaminants (dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls - PCBs, cadmium and lead) found in both wild and farmed game. While game can be contaminated by numerous chemicals present in its living environment or via ammunition, the available data only give a partial picture of wild game contamination in France. The Agency therefore recommends documenting the contamination levels of small and large wild game more fully, as well as the dietary exposure of game consumers. Because the expert appraisal highlighted a health concern related to lead, the Agency is proposing various levers for action to reduce consumer exposure (substitution of lead ammunition, trimming of meat, frequency of consumption). Pending additional data and given the level of lead contamination in large wild game (deer and wild boar), the Agency recommends that women of childbearing age and children avoid all consumption of large wild game, while other consumers should limit themselves to occasional consumption, around three times a year.

Wild game can be exposed to contaminants found in its living environment (soil, air, water and vegetation). Regulation (EEC) No 315/93 prohibits the marketing of food containing  contaminants in levels that are unacceptable from a public health viewpoint. However, with regard to game meat or liver, no data on the acceptable concentration or maximum content of chemical contaminants have been defined.

In this context, ANSES received a formal request from the Directorate General for Food and the Directorate General for Health to conduct an expert appraisal on the health risk associated with the consumption of wild game and levels of certain major environmental chemical contaminants (dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls - PCBs, cadmium and lead). This appraisal is based on data collected in the framework of control plans implemented by the public authorities.

The Agency's conclusions

Directive No 96/23/EC on measures to monitor certain substances and residues thereof in live animals and animal products requires annual sampling checks for chemical residues in game. In France, this chemical residue control plan is implemented each year for dioxins, PCBs, cadmium and lead. The data analysed in the Agency's expert appraisal were those from the control plans and therefore concern these different contaminants.

The game contamination data produced by the control plans since 2007 were only exploited for large game (deer and wild boar). Moreover, since there is a lack of dietary consumption data for frequent game consumers, no specific health risk assessments can be made.

However, regardless of the contaminant studied, wild game contains higher concentrations on average than farmed game. In particular, the expert appraisal highlighted a health concern related to lead found in the meat of large wild game (wild boar, red and roe deer, etc.). Part of this comes from its environment, but it also seems closely linked to the phenomenon of ammunition fragmentation, which is responsible for high contamination values in a wide area around the bullet's trajectory. This source of exposure reinforces the concerns regarding lead exposure of the general population that ANSES had already expressed in its total diet studies (TDS2 and iTDS), and could even potentially become the primary contributor to lead exposure through ingestion.

The Agency's recommendations

Various levers for action could help reduce lead exposure associated with the consumption of meat from large wild game. They include substituting lead ammunition, trimming away the meat around the bullet's trajectory, and following consumption recommendations.

In view of its findings and the large number of people concerned (1,200,000 hunters identified in 2016, in addition to their families and friends), ANSES recommends more complete documentation of the contamination levels of small and large wild game by dioxins, PCBs, cadmium and lead, as well as other environmental contaminants.

A better understanding of dietary habits is also needed concerning the consumption of small and large wild game in France.

Pending these data, and especially with regard to the health concerns related to dietary exposure to lead and its presence in large wild game, the Agency recommends that:

  • consumers limit themselves to occasional consumption of large wild game (approximately three times a year);
  • women of childbearing age and children avoid all consumption of large wild game, given the harmful effects of lead observed during the foetal-embryonic development period and in childhood.