A vintage postcard with artwork depicting chickens having a conniption.
Chicken feed laced with arsenic has been around since the 1940s. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Snapshots of the Past/Flickr)

Much of the chicken we consume contains the poison arsenic, according to a study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While some experts state that the amount of inorganic arsenic found in chicken meat is inconsequential, others claim that the amount greatly exceeds what the FDA allows in drinking water. As a result of the FDA study, the drug maker Pfizer will stop U.S. distribution of Roxarsone (aka 3-Nitro), an ingredient in chicken feed that contains arsenic.

Pfizer halts US sales of Roxarsone voluntarily

While the FDA could have eventually banned the additive Roxarsone, Pfizer Inc. voluntarily decided to pull it off the U.S. market, effective next month. While previous studies had indicated that the arsenic content in Roxarsone was eliminated with chicken waste, many poultry farmers had already stopped using the product, which had been used since the 1940s to kill parasites and promote growth.

Pfizer’s self-imposed ban will also apply to Roxarsone for pigs and turkeys as well. According to company researcher Scott Brown, Pfizer is currently in negotiations with regulatory authorities in other countries where Roxarsone is sold.

Risk to human and chicken health

The FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, Michael Taylor, told the AP that the latest study regarding chicken and arsenic-based additives raised concern over whether such exposure is viable. In chicken waste, the carcinogen has remained a concern for environmentalists and consumer groups. Such groups believe that when arsenic-laced chicken waste is used as fertilizer, the chemical finds its way into the water. As such, Maryland has attempted a ban in the past, arguing that the arsenic seeps into Chesapeake Bay.

“Arsenic in chicken production poses a risk not only to human health but to the environment,” said Michael Hansen, senior scientist with Consumer Reports publisher Consumers Union. “We need to get arsenic out of food production altogether.”

Consumers Union has asked the FDA to investigate another drug produced by Pfizer called Nitarsone, which contains arsenic and is fed to chickens and turkeys. Specific data regarding the amount of arsenic in Nitarsone has not been determined at this time.

No need to stop eating chicken

According to the National Chicken Council, chicken is still safe to eat. Industry spokesman Richard Lobb told the New York Times that 3-Nitro is not used universally, and that the industry’s own studies have not discovered cause to be concerned over the health threat to humans of chickens that consumer arsenic-based additives in small quantities. Considering that megalith chicken-growing companies like Perdue and Tyson benefit handsomely from the $45 billion in U.S. broiler chickens sold each year – and that the National Chicken Council represents such companies – critics of Roxarsone are unimpressed by the council’s testimony.

Chicken: Your RDA of arsenic


Associated Press: http://bit.ly/kW4Wu5

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/09/business/09arsenic.html?_r=3&partner=rss&emc=rss

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