April 19, 2013
A recent spate of lead poisoning cases in young cattle is a reminder to producers that allowing their livestock into areas where there are sources of lead can be a very costly mistake. Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) Principal Veterinary Officer George Downing said although only a small proportion of cattle in a mob may actually consume lead and even fewer die, there can be wider consequences for the whole mob. “The first sign of lead poisoning may be dead animals, although others may show nervous signs,” Dr Downing said. “However, some apparently unaffected animals will also have consumed lead and their meat may have high lead residue levels. “For this reason, all animals exposed to a source of lead, whether or not they have shown signs of lead poisoning, must either be blood tested at the producer’s expense or retained on the property for a minimum of two years, before they can be slaughtered for human consumption. “Blood testing can cost upwards of $50 per head per test, plus veterinary costs, and every animal in the mob must be tested at least once to confirm that lead levels are below legal tolerances.” The price received for animals in the exposed mob may also be reduced, because even when their meat is suitable for human consumption, their livers and kidneys will potentially need to be condemned. “The costs associated with stock deaths, blood testing and maintaining animals for extra time on the property, together with the prospect of reduced prices at slaughter, mean that lead poisoning is just not worth the risk,” Dr Downing said. “Cattle should not be allowed to graze around houses and sheds, or where old car or tractor batteries and other items containing lead may have been left, or in paddocks that contain unfenced rubbish dumps. “Battery cases become brittle over time and are easily broken by inquisitive cattle, allowing them to eat the lead and lead salts inside. “Other common sources of lead include lead-based paint, linoleum, sump oil, automotive grease and oil filters, caulking, putty, lead pipe and the ashes of materials that had been painted with lead paints “Lead poisoning is often seen during drought when cattle unearth items during their search for feed, so it’s worthwhile inspecting paddocks where cattle are to be sent for agistment before they are allowed access.” Most cattle, sheep and goat producers are participants in the industry-managed Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) on-farm food safety program. Producers should be familiar with their obligations, particularly in relation to assessing property risks, before introducing livestock into new areas.