Pheasant meat sold at Waitrose contaminated with toxic lead, campaign group says

Waitrose meat had the highest median levels of lead of the retailers tested

Saman Javed
Saturday 18 December 2021 21:10 GMT
A pheasant sitting in a field
A pheasant sitting in a field (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Pheasant meat sold at Waitrose is still contaminated with lead despite the retailer’s promise to switch to lead-free meat more than two years ago, tests have found.

Wild Justice, a campaign group that advocates for better protection of the UK’s wildlife, tested 14 fillets of pheasant bought from Waitrose stores in Essex and London in late November.

Meats such as beef, chicken and pork must adhere to maximum levels of lead of 0.1mg per kg but there is currently no set maximum level for game meat.

Tests for lead contamination in Waitrose’s pheasant fillets found they had a median level of 2.92mgs of lead per kg.

Wild Justice said this indicated that Waitrose has made “no progress” in ensuring that its meat is not contaminated with lead because tests in 2020 found the median level of lead in Waitrose whole pheasants was 0.5mg per kg.

When game meat is shot with lead ammunition, the pellets pass through the bird’s flesh and tiny fragments of lead which are too small to see or remove, are distributed through the animal.

The Food Standards Agency advises the public to limit its consumption of game meat shot with lead.

Wild Justice also tested pheasant meat from Sainsbury’s and Harrods.

The median level of lead in Sainsbury’s breast fillets was 1.88mg per kg, while the median level in Harrods’ whole pheasants was 0.23mg per kg.

In a statement to The Independent, Waitrose said it strongly refutes any suggestion that its shoots are using lead ammunition, and that the results are due to environmental residues.

“Our understanding is that no shot was found in the Waitrose game tested and we are confident that these results are explained by environmental residues. We have stringent controls on our supply chain where no lead-based ammunition is used,” the statement said.

In a statement announcing the results of its tests, Wild Justice said Waitrose has agreed to meet with the group to discuss lead in game meat.

“Lead is a poison. These lead levels would be illegal in other meats. The most overwhelmingly likely explanation for such very high lead levels is contamination by fragments of lead shot,” Wild Justice said.

“There is no Lead Fairy sprinkling lead into Waitrose game meat. Waitrose have not apologised for, or explained, their failure. Why is a small organisation like Wild Justice having to test the levels of poison in meat sold by a major retailer? These tests cost a few hundred quid – why didn’t Waitrose test their own game meat?”

In a statement to The Independent, Sainsbury’s said it is supporting its suppliers to remove all lead shot from its meat by July 2022.

“Our suppliers work hard to minimise any presence of lead shot in game and while it’s rare it’s possible small traces may remain in the product. This is explained on the packaging so that our customers can make informed decisions about the items that they buy.”

The Independent has contacted Harrods for comment.

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