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Farm Animal Practice
Lead poisoning in cattle and sheep
  1. Jo Payne

    Jo Payne graduated from Liverpool in 1985. She joined the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) in 1998 as a veterinary investigation officer. She is currently project leader for chemical food safety and head of veterinary and nutritional toxicology at the VLA.

  2. Chris Livesey

    Chris Livesey graduated from Liverpool in 1972. He retired from the VLA in 2009 where he was head of toxicology and nutrition. He is now a private consultant, specialising in veterinary toxicology, chemical food safety and animal nutrition.


Lead has no known biological role and is harmful to human and animal health. Over the past three decades, there has been a large reduction in lead in foods, and its use in food-related products such as for solders in food cans and bottle seals has been abolished. The use of lead in paints for domestic and livestock housing has been massively reduced and leaded gasoline has been withdrawn. Despite this, lead poisoning remains the most commonly diagnosed cause of poisoning in cattle and sheep and most incidents are preventable. This article reviews the sources of lead that can cause lead poisoning in cattle and sheep and the implications of this for food safety. It also outlines how the incidence of cases might be reduced.

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