Lead contamination in food-producing animals

Lead exposure can cause serious illness in animals and sometimes causes death. Cattle are the most common food-producing animals affected.

If animals consume lead or lead pieces, or even lick lead surfaces, they may absorb enough of the metal to cause lead poisoning.

At low levels of exposure, they may survive and not show clinical signs of lead poisoning. Even so, there may be unacceptable levels of lead residue in the meat, liver and kidney from those animals, or in milk that they produce. If these residues exceed the maximum level set for lead in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, the product will be unsuitable for human consumption. If you suspect your animals have, or are at risk of, lead poisoning, or may have lead above maximum levels, you must not send them to slaughter.

The Biosecurity Regulation 2016 adopts the contaminant standards for heavy metals included in schedule 19 of the Australia New Zealand food standards code as the acceptable levels for contaminants in plant and animal food commodities.

Under the Biosecurity Act 2014, anyone who deals with biosecurity matter has a general biosecurity obligation to minimise biosecurity risks posed by the matter, especially if these risks may affect human health or trade.

Lead contamination of food-producing animals is a serious risk to human health and trade in agricultural commodities, as the lead may enter the food chain. Therefore, people who deal with food-producing animals that show signs of lead poisoning, or with animals that may be contaminated with lead, must minimise these risks.

Lead contamination is a notifiable incident under the Biosecurity Act 2014. You must notify a Biosecurity Queensland officer if you suspect that food-producing animals are affected by exposure to lead.

This guide contains information about:

  • major sources of lead
  • how to safely dispose of toxic rubbish
  • signs of lead poisoning
  • clinical testing and treatment advice for veterinarians.