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Arsenic exposure from Poultry Meat produced in the US before 2015


While certain arsenic species such as inorganic arsenite and arsenate are known to cause cancer and possibly other adverse health outcomes, arsenic-based drugs have been used in the production of chickens, turkeys and swine in the US since the 1940s. The approvals for three of these drugs, roxarsone, arsanilic acid, and carbarsone, were withdrawn by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on September 30, 2013, a fourth drug, nitarsone ((4-nitrophenyl)arsonic acid, C6H6AsNO5), used in chickens and turkeys, was withdrawn by FDA in December of 2015, terminating the domestic sale of the drug.

poultry meat on kitchen tableUnfortunately, the withdrawal of arsenical drugs from the US market by the FDA does not impact their use in other countries, nor does it prevent US-based pharmaceutical companies from selling these products in other countries.

Photo: How much toxic arsenic in poultry meat ?

For example, arsenicals are approved for use in China, and can be found in commercial feed for poultry and swine and animal manure in China. It is, however, unknown if consumption of poultry exposed to arsenic-based drugs results in increased arsenic exposure and internal dose in the population, as reflected in urinary excretion.

New studies:
Researchers from the US have now investigated the exposure of poultry consumers to toxic arsenic species.
In a first study, the researchers used the data of 3,329 participants from the 2003-2010 National Health Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) with urine arsenic available and undetectable arsenobetaine. Participants NHANES collects 24-hour dietary recall information the same day a spot urine sample is collected for total and arsenic speciation analysis. Participants with detectable arsenobetaine were excluded, since arsenobetaine is a marker for seafood consumption which markedly contribute to total arsenic exposure making it difficult to evaluate the contribution of other arsenic sources.

Total arsenic concentrations were determined via quadrupole based ICP-MS, while arsenic speciation analysis was performed by using HPLC coupled to the ICP-MS. After adjustment, participants in the highest quartile of poultry consumption had urine total arsenic 12% and DMA 13% higher than nonconsumers.

During the fall/winter participants in the highest quartile of turkey intake had urine total arsenic and DMA 17% and 13% higher, respectively, than non-consumers. Past 24-hour consumption of turkey was not associated with total arsenic or DMA during the spring/summer.

The authors concluded that poultry intake was associated with increased urine total arsenic and DMA in NHANES 2003-2010, reflecting arsenic exposure.

In a second study the same group with participation of colleagues from the University of Graz for the first time investigated the impact of nitarsone use on arsenic species in turkey meat and the resulting exposure among turkey consumers.

The researchers collected 56 turkey raw meat samples from different stores in three cities of the US before the retraction of the nitarsone approval. The total arsenic contents of the freeze-dried turkey samples were determined by using ICP-MS  following microwave-assisted acid mineralization. Arsenic species were determined in alkaline aqueous extracts of the freeze-dried turkey samples by using anion-exchange HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) coupled to an ICP-MS.  Turkey meat from conventional producers not prohibiting nitarsone use showed increased mean levels (in µg kg-1) of inorganic As (iAs) (0.64) and methylarsonate (MA) (5.27) compared to antibiotic-free and organic meat (0.39 and 1.54, respectively) and meat from conventional producers prohibiting nitarsone use (0.33 and 0.28, respectively). Samples with measurable nitarsone had the highest mean iAs and MA (0.92 and 10.96, respectively). Nitarsone was higher in October samples as compared to March, possibly due to increased summer use. Based on the enhanced arsenic concentration in turkeys from conventional producers, the estimated lifetime daily consumption by an 80 kg adult, and e recently-proposed cancer slope factor, the researchers estimated that use of nitarsone in the US would result in 3.1 additional cases of  bladder or lung cancer per 1 Mio. consumers.

The researchers concluded that their studies support the FDA's removal of nitarsone and other arsenic drugs from the US market and further support their removal from the global marketplace.  

The original studies

Anne E. Nigra, Keeve E. Nachman, David C. Love, Maria Grau-Perez, and Ana Navas-Acien, Poultry Consumption and Arsenic Exposure in the U.S. Population, Environ. Health. Perspect. published: Oct. 13, 2016.  DOI: 10.1289/EHP351

Keeve E. Nachman, David C. Love, Patrick A. Baron, Anne E. Nigra, Manuela Murko, Georg Raber, Kevin A. Francesconi, and Ana Navas-Acien, Nitarsone, Inorganic Arsenic, and Other Arsenic Species in Turkey Meat: Exposure and Risk Assessment Based on a 2014 U.S. Market Basket Sample, Environ. Health. Perspect. published: Oct. 13, 2016.  DOI: 10.1289/EHP225

Used techniques and instrumentation:

PerkinElmer DRC II ICP-MS (first study)
Agilent 7900 ICP-MS (second study)

Related studies (newest first)

Q. Liu, H. Peng, X. Lu, M.J. Zuidhof, X.-F. Li, X.C. Le, Arsenic species in chicken breast: temporal variations of metabolites, elimination kinetics, and residual concentrations. Environ. Health Perspect. 124/8 (2016) 1174-1181. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1510530

K.E. Nachman, P.A. Baron, G. Raber, K.A. Francesconi, A. Navas-Acien, D.C. Love, Roxarsone, inorganic arsenic, and other arsenic species in chicken: a U.S.-based market basket sample; Environ. Health Perspect., 121 (2013) 818–824. doi:10.1289/ehp.1206245.

S.D. Conklin, N. Shockey, K. Kubachka, K.D. Howard, M.C. Carson, Development of an ion chromatography–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry method to determine inorganic arsenic in liver from chickens treated with roxarsone. J. Agric. Food Chem., 60/37 (2012) 9394-9404. DOI: 10.1021/jf302366a

Ellen K. Silbergeld, Keeve Nachman, The Environmental and Public Health Risks Associated with Arsenical Use in Animal Feeds, Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci., 1140 (2008) 346-357. doi: 10.1196/annals.1454.049

T. Lasky, W. Sun, A. Kadry, M.K. Hoffman, Mean total arsenic concentrations in chicken 1989-2000 and estimated exposures for consumers of chicken. Environ. Health Perspect., 112/1 (2004) 18-21. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.6407

H.D. Chapman, Z.B. Johnson, Use of antibiotics and roxarsone in broiler chickens in the USA: analysis for the years 1995–2000, Poultry. Sci., 81 (2002) 356–364. DOI: 10.1093/ps/81.3.356

John R. Dean, Les Ebdon, Michael E. Foulkes, Helen M. Crews, Robert C. Massey, Determination of the Growth Promoter, 4-Hydroxy-3-Nitrophenyl-Arsonic Acid in Chicken Tissue by Coupled High-performance Liquid Chromatography - Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry, J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 9/5 (1994) 615-618. DOI: 10.1039/JA9940900615

Related EVISA Resources

Link database: Toxicity of inorganic arsenic
Link database: Use of organic arsenic compounds

Brief summary: ICP-MS: A versatile detection system for trace element and speciation analysis
Brief summary: LC-ICP-MS - The most often used hyphenated system for speciation analysis

Related EVISA News

February 9, 2014: Roxarsone and it metabolites in organic fertilizer lead to human exposure to arsenic 
June 10, 2011: U.S. sales of widely used drug "Roxarsone" for chickens to be suspended

January 11, 2007: More evidence linking chicken litter and toxic arsenic
April 6, 2006: Testing finds: Arsenic added to feedstuff finds its way into chicken meat
April 27, 2005:Conflict raised in chicken arsenic debate
February 8, 2005: The use of arsenic in "poultry industry"

last time modified: July 22, 2020


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