A letter from Lead Ammunition Group chairman John Swift to DEFRA secretary of state Liz Truss has confirmed the conclusion of the group’s final report – and provoked heavy criticism from leading shooting organisations.
The letter, dated 3 June 2015, but released on the LAG’s website only recently, addresses the content of the group’s final report, which aims to advise DEFRA on the potential harmful impact of lead ammunition use to wildlife and to humans.
The group was recently struck by controversy when several of its members resigned, with Sir Barney White-Spunner claiming that the group was guilty of “abuses of process”, rendering any report unsound.
The letter from John Swift makes the content of the report clear, saying: “The report concludes that it is a matter of political judgment whether the actual and potential risks to wildlife and human health described in the report and associated risk assessments merit further mitigation effort in addition to the regulations for wetlands already in place.”
If the “political judgment” is that lead must be regulated, the letter says that the report concludes that “there is no convincing evidence, yet available, that anything other than an eventual phase out of lead ammunition and phase in of the non-toxic ammunition alternatives will do it.”
The letter goes on to acknowledge the “two distinct points of view” that split the LAG. “One camp disagrees with the possibility of phasing out lead ammunition,” John Swift says in the letter, “and believes that the risks from lead ammunition are not sufficiently proven, or large enough, to justify further restrictions… Their particular concerns are that the evidence, indicating the need for replacement of lead ammunition, falls short of providing irrefutable proof of causal links between lead ammunition and the stated health effects and wildlife impacts; and is biased and motivated by people who dislike live-quarry shoot.
“The other camp takes a contrasting view, namely that there is, nowadays, a substantial and compelling body of scientific evidence for the impacts of lead as a toxic substance, especially in recent years at very low exposure levels, and in particular from lead ammunition, for both human and wildlife health.”
The letter does address the controversial resignations of some members of the group: “It is regrettable that the representatives for shooting (General Sir Barney White-Spunner), landowners and farmers (Mark Tufnell) and game dealers (Stephen Crouch) having submitted their comments, resigned from the group before their comments could be discussed with them. Their comments were nonetheless considered systematically and each of the representatives has been provided with a detailed response to each of their comments.”
The letter concludes by claiming that, with the submission of the report, the LAG “completes it purpose of providing a full and balanced account, together with careful consideration of uncertainties, wider considerations and context.”
The release of the letter has provoked yet more criticism from the UK’s shooting organisations. Alan Jarrett, chairman of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), called the letter “a further confirmation of the failures in process which resulted in the mass resignation of many members of the LAG before the production of the report by those who remained.
“The letter completely undermines the requirement for confidentiality because it publishes a summary of the report’s contents and conclusions before it has been examined by DEFRA.
“BASC has always been clear that any proposed review of lead ammunition must only be conducted on the basis of sound scientific evidence and proper process.”
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, has also spoken out against the letter, saying: “The decision to release this letter three months after it was written shows clearly that the objective of the remaining members of the now role-less Lead Ammunition Group is to achieve an outright ban on lead ammunition. However, their knowledge that DEFRA’s planned peer review process will pick apart and undermine their report seems to have resulted in a decision to cause as much destruction as possible in the meantime.
“The substance of the report written by the remaining members of the LAG does not represent the discussions and evidence put forward during the five-year inquiry, which is why we and other members of the group had no option but to resign.
“On submitting a prejudiced report the LAG has failed to fulfil its terms of reference and should now cease to exist, and the Countryside Alliance is now keener than ever to do what is right by our members and move this debate forward in a systematic and scientific manner.”
The official Lead Ammunition Group report has not yet been made public, and DEFRA has stated that it will not release the report until the peer review stage is complete.
John Swift’s full letter to Liz Truss can be read on the official LAG website.