The danger of lead pellets from clay pigeon shoots to free-range layers and subsequent contamination of eggs was highlighted in the Veterinary Laboratories Agency’s latest report, published last month.

In its routine Potential Food Safety Incidents report, the agency outlined a case of lead toxicity in a flock of 2000 organic laying hens which were ranging in close proximity to an active clay pigeon shoot. Lead shot was falling on to the range.

The hens were 42 weeks into lay and had been laying since 22 weeks. However, the flock never reached their expected production potential. Post-mortem examinations revealed several cases of egg peritonitis and lead shot was seen in gizzards on a number of occasions. One bird had 59g of lead shot in its gizzard.

Egg analyses revealed consistently high concentrations of up to 2.55ppm lead and it led to a product recall in mid-May.Discussions are ongoing between Trading Standards, the Food Standards Agency and the farmer as to how he can best clean up.

The report questioned that it was surprising that organic status should be granted to a flock in this situation and the author suggested that it highlighted the lack of awareness to potential contaminants.

This is the second case in poultry involving lead shot in the environment to occur in a six-month period, the previous case occurred at the end of 2007 and involved free-range geese intended for the Christmas market. Also in the report was a number of botulism cases in cattle that were traced to the use of poultry litter on silage ground.