DEFRA stays silent on LAG controversy

ShotThe shooting industry has been left waiting to hear the verdict on the future of lead shot, after the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs resisted calls to publish the Lead Ammunition Group’s final report.

The LAG, chaired by John Swift, sent its final report to DEFRA earlier this year after five years of deliberation. But the report was swathed in controversy as all the shooting representatives – totalling some half of the group’s membership – resigned in protest at the report’s apparent one-sided nature and at the processes the group had followed.

For example, John Batley resigned after the final report and the minutes of the group’s last meeting were withheld from him: “When I joined the group, I had the expectation that any risk assessment and proposals of mitigation would be objective, based on firm scientific evidence.

“I am sad to say my expectations have not been met and I consider my position on the group untenable.

“I understand from correspondence from the chairman that he has submitted his report. At the time of writing I have seen neither the report nor the minutes of the last meeting. Therefore I firmly believe the current report does not enjoy consensus.”

The shooting representatives – John Batley, Barney White-Spunner, Ian Coghill, Stephen Crouch and Mark Tufnell – went on to submit their own report, providing an alternative to LAG’s official story. On submitting this report, Barney White-Spunner said: “John Swift circulated a draft Lead Ammunition Group Report in April, which the majority of the group had no part in drafting. That document is very far from a reflection of the LAG’s discussions and draws incorrect conclusions from that evidence which the LAG has agreed. More seriously, many of those conclusions are based on evidence that the LAG has simply not agreed and were presented to the rest of the group as a fait accompli.

“The LAG was intended to put a consensus view to DEFRA. It has manifestly failed to do that. I do not think DEFRA can accept a report that is so procedurally flawed and from a group of which the majority of members have resigned.”

DEFRA has been considering both reports since June, and is yet to make a public statement on the subject. In addition, it won’t even reveal what was in the official LAG report, rejecting a Freedom of Information request to publish it: “The LAG report has yet to be peer reviewed. When the report has completed that review and is finalised, it will be used to formulate and develop government policy.

“There is a strong public interest in withholding the report to ensure that there is a space within which ministers and officials are able to discuss all policy options freely. It would not be in the public interest to release the report as that would, or would likely, prejudice the formulation and development of government policy by prompting uninformed comment and speculation, which would likely lead to ministers and officials having to divert their attention to such comments and debates, which, in turn, would distract them from considering the policy options.”

Despite this silence, most of the shooting industry has come to expect that the LAG’s official report will call for a total lead ban. This has been clear since early in 2015, when emails from a LAG member said the report was set to conclude that “lead ammunition is harmful for both wildlife and human health” and alternatives are available “at comparable cost”.

The sender went on to say: “The dispersal of some thousands of tons of an accumulative, seriously toxic material every year is quite simply an insupportable thing to be doing for purposes of recreation and sport – especially if there are now alternatives that can well be used.

“I have not seen anything that would persuade me otherwise.”

At the time, chairman John Swift admitted these emails were “a warning that the evidence is pointing towards a lead-free future.”

A response from DEFRA is awaited.

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