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Lead poisoning prevention scheme set to help farmers save money
Published:  15 May, 2017

A new initiative has been designed to help Scottish farmers prevent lead poisoning in their livestock. 

Food Standards Scotland has teamed up with Scottish Agricultural College Consulting Vet Services (SACCVS), the Animal Plant & Health Agency (APHA) and the Scottish government to help inform the industry about the causes and symptoms of lead poisoning. Leaflets will be distributed to farmers in Scotland to help communicate the message.

As animals are put out to pasture during the spring time, incidences of lead poisoning tend to rise. This is because animals are more likely to come into contact with lead deposits from sources such as old machinery, rubbish, vehicle batteries, bonfire ash, electric fencing or lead-based paint.

It is believed that, in the last two years, approximately 460 animals in Scotland have been affected by lead poisoning, resulting in 38 deaths. Aside from not being able to sell the products that would have been produced from the animal, farmers can also face fees from veterinarian costs, stunted animal growth and loss of market value.

Livestock that have been exposed to lead can show high levels of poisoning in their meat, offal and milk. Levels can be above the limits laid down in food law, meaning they are illegal for use in the food chain.

“Keeping the number of products containing lead down to a minimum can significantly reduce the risk of lead poisoning on farms,” explained Food Standards Scotland’s head of food crime and incidents unit Ron McNaughton (pictured).

“Most farmers will do this as a matter of course, but there are a minority of farms where rubbish such as old car batteries, old machinery and redundant material is allowed to accumulate, rather than being disposed of, and this can lead to contamination of the soil.

“Farm animals including cattle, pigs and sheep, are inquisitive creatures and will investigate anything unusual. If farmers suspect lead poisoning they should stop access to the affected area and remove the cause as soon as it has been identified. They should remove the livestock from the area and seek veterinary advice.”

Signs of poisoning in cattle include nervous disease, blindness, infertility and sudden death.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland’s president Andrew McCornick added that incidents of lead poisoning can have a devastating effect on a farm.

“Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) veterinary services identified eight incidents of lead poisoning on Scottish farms last year, including once case where 12 cows died, with a further 74 affected,” he said.

“I urge all livestock-keepers to be aware of any potential sources of lead, whether that be old vehicle batteries, lead paint, water pipes or bonfire ash, and regularly assess the risk of lead in their premises and on grazing ground. Almost all cases of lead poisoning are avoidable by taking simple steps.”

Lead poisoning tests are inexpensive and can be arranged by contacting your veterinary surgeon or local Scottish Agricultural College Disease Surveillance Centre for advice if lead poisoning is suspected. Information on veterinary services in your area is available via the SACCVS website, www.sruc.ac.uk

Contamination risks can be lowered by:

• Checking fields and barns regularly for vehicle batteries, burnt-out cars and old machinery
• Making sure that animals can’t access bonfire ash, piping and flashing
• Watch out for fly-tipping
• Ensure animals’ soil consumption remains as low as possible
• Check for flaky lead paint and putty on outbuildings