Dangers of Lead Poisoning to Farming Stock

Littering, plastic, dog waste bags – all types of irresponsibly discarded waste can be a health threat to farming livestock.

Now Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has issued a warning about lead poisoning which can result from animals ingesting waste from car and electric fence batteries, or ash from where lead has been burned

Image credit Bell

FSS say that 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, contaminating meat, offal and milk which becomes unsafe and illegal to sell.

Stuart McAdam, the organisation’s Head of Incidents, explained that lead poisoning can have a devastating impact for farmers and can put consumers at risk.

He 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.

“We know farmers are very serious about the health and welfare of the animals in their care, however, because incidents of lead poisoning often peaks in spring when cattle is put out to pasture we’re re-launching our on-farm incident prevention campaign.

“Lead batteries, old paint, bonfire ash and fly-tipping are 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 Newmacher farmer Grant Jolly.

During July of last year, three of Mr Jolly’s 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, says cases of lead poisoning happen “almost always” at spring turnout when young cattle are sent out.

For the infected animal and the farmer, it is a distressing period.

“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.”

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