In 2011, a report was issued from the Food and Drug Administration blasting roxarsone, an arsenic-based drug used in chicken production. The FDA announced the Pfizer-made drug was contaminating chicken sold to the American people at a high level. After the scathing report, Pfizer voluntarily pulled roxarsone. But, the arsenic scare isn’t over.
A new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) indicates inorganic arsenic (iAs) isn’t only in U.S. chicken, but it’s in most U.S. chicken. While the study focused on chicken treated by roxarsone, another arsenic-creating drug is on the market and being used in chicken production, indicating that the problem is still relevant.
“Arsenical Association: Inorganic Arsenic May Accumulate in the Meat of Treated Chickens” explains that iAs doesn’t pass through chickens without contamination. As a matter of fact, the known-carcinogen accumulates in the muscle tissue, the edible parts of the chicken.
Nitarsone is the name of the drug that essentially replaced roxarsone. It is similar in composition and still contains iAs. For one reason or another, this drug has been allowed to remain in the food system with no real fight from the FDA who had previously blasted roxarsone.
So what is the arsenic used for?
Read: FDA to Finally Remove Arsenic from Animal Feed
Niitarsone is given to chickens to help them grow faster and resist intestinal parasites, something that is difficult to avoid in the cramped and filthy conditions of today’s modern chicken production facilities (which are nothing like the farms of years passed). These drugs also give chicken meat that pink color rather than gray, a color preference that apparently does better on grocery store shelves.
The latest study looked at three different types of chicken: conventional, conventional but antibiotic-free, and certified organic. The researchers found the cooked conventional chicken had the highest level of arsenic, at about 1.8 micrograms per kilogram of body weight (1.8mg/kg). Cooked organic chicken had the lowest levels, at 0.6mg/kg.
The FDA never did officially ban roxarsone nor have they done anything about the newcomer nitarsone (though they are finally making some moves). Because of this, there is a very good chance that all conventionally-produced chicken is being treated with the new and similarly dangerous drug.
“Our study gives the FDA a clear rationale for withdrawing its approval for roxarsone and potentially other arsenic-based drugs in animal agriculture,” said the study’s lead author Keeve Nachman.
Amy Sapkota, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health adds, “This study provides the FDA with good data about whether it should formally withdraw the use of arsenicals from chicken production in the U.S.