New safety campaign urges farmers to be aware of lead poisoning

The poisoning can have a knock-on effect on the food chain, as contaminated meat and milk is unsafe to sell
The poisoning can have a knock-on effect on the food chain, as contaminated meat and milk is unsafe to sell

A new safety campaign is urging farmers to be aware of lead poisoning and the devastating impact this can have their businesses as well as consumers.

The Food Standards Scotland's (FSS) campaign is encouraging farmers to be aware of the deadly consequences of lead poisoning.

Discarded materials around farmland, including car and electric fence batteries, or ash from where lead has been burned, can prove fatal to animals if digested.

Young livestock, turned out into the field for the first time at this time of year, are particularly at risk due to their inquisitive nature within new surroundings.

The poisoning can have a knock-on effect on the food chain, the FSS says, as contaminated meat, offal and milk is unsafe and illegal to sell.

Stuart McAdam, the organisation’s head of incidents said: “Lead is a highly toxic metal which can cause slow or stunted growth, blindness, infertility, birth defects and death.

“Not only are health impacts on stock distressing, but there are financial implications such as veterinary fees, carcass disposal and loss of market value."

He explained that lead batteries, old paint, bonfire ash and fly-tipping were the primary causes of lead poisonings.

“Prevention is the best strategy and checking field regularly and removing animals’ access to these sources are the first steps to preventing these incidents.”

The misery of losing cattle to lead poisoning is all too familiar to Aberdeenshire farmer Grant Jolly.

During July of last year, three of his cattle became ill with the vet quickly identifying symptoms of lead poisoning.

These symptoms can include animals becoming slow and wobbly, teeth grinding, blindness and bloating.

After one of the cattle died, a sweep of the farm found an old battery which was thought to be the likely source.

Mr Jolly has called on farmers to search their land for old batteries before their cattle are turned out this spring to prevent unnecessary suffering.

He added: “Losing one of my cattle in such a way has been a nightmare and resulted in significant financial costs.

“The battery that was found was very old and only a small part was sticking out from the ground. Luckily I found it.”

Vet Graham Fowlie, based at Meadows Vets, Oldmeldrum, said cases of lead poisoning happened “almost always” at spring turnout when young cattle are sent out.

“Rapid onset blindness means the cattle end up drowning in ditches and get stuck in fences,” said Mr Fowlie.

“Once the animals show symptoms, death often follows quickly. It’s fairly traumatic stuff.”