Findings of a new investigation about the use of arsenic in poultry feedstuff indicate that the "growth promoter" finds its way into the meat.
Of the 8.7 billion American broiler chickens produced each year, estimates are that at least 70 percent have been fed arsenic as a growth promoter (e.g Roxarsone). Some of that arsenic finds its way into the chicken meat.
It has been claimed that none—or at least very little—of the arsenic put into chicken feed makes its way into the meat. But arsenic levels in chicken meat are a lot higher than previously acknowledged, this is the result of recent investigations funded by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
During this investigation, brands of chicken bought in both supermarkets and at fast food outlets were tested for arsenic contamination. Samples came from Minnesota and California supermarkets, alltogether 151 packages of raw chicken—chicken breasts, thighs or legs, whole chickens and livers—raised under the labels of some of the nation’s largest chicken-producing companies, along with “premium” chicken products, including certified-organic
Most uncooked chicken products purchased from supermarkets (55 percent) contained detectable arsenic. However, average levels of arsenic varied substantially from not detectable to 21.2 ng/g and plenty of the supermarket chicken tested carried no arsenic at all (from 155 samples, 45 percent had no arsenic or arsenic below the limit of detection). Clearly, arsenic in chicken is not a “natural” or industry-wide problem. However, nearly three-quarters of the raw chicken breasts, thighs and livers from conventional producers that we tested carried detectable levels of arsenic up to 46.5 ng/g.
Arsenic levels previously found in chicken generally have been lower than federal standards, as are also the concentrations found in this study. That is, they don’t appear to routinely violate the “tolerance levels” for arsenic in meat set by the Food and Drug Administration.
Unfortunately, the study fails to determine the arsenic species present in the meat. The Pharma and the poultry industry argues that the organic arsenic species used as feed additives are harmless.
Both such arguments miss a more important point. The arsenic found in chicken has been added intentionally to chicken. Why put more arsenic in the food chain in the first place? In Europe, no arsenic is added to animal feed.
"Adding arsenic to chicken feed is a needless and ultimately avoidable practice that only exposes more people to more of this ancient poison," said Dr. David Wallinga, a physician, author of Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat, and director of IATP's Food and Health program.
"There is good news. Consumers can limit or eliminate their arsenic intake in chicken by making smart choices about which chicken to buy" said Wallinga. "Our testing found plenty of supermarket chicken without any detectable arsenic."
Another concern is related to the environmental pollution created by 26 to 55 billion pounds of poultry litter or waste contaminated with arsenic in the US with close relation to the food-chain. Around 90 percent currently is applied to fields and cropland as “fertilizer.” Poultry litter containing arsenic also is fed to beef cattle. (In January 2004, the FDA had proposed banning the practice; however, the agency reversed course in October 2005 and decided
to continue allowing it after all.)
Chickens are not the only environmental source of arsenic (see related News). In addition to drinking water, for which the Environmental Protection Agency now sets a level of 10 parts per billion (ppb), other poultry, rice, fish and a number of foods also contain the poison. Soils are contaminated with arsenical pesticides from chicken manure and the use of herbicides; and until 2003, arsenic was used in pressure-treated wood for decks and playground equipment.
Human exposure to it has been compounded because the consumption of chicken has exploded. In 1960, each American ate 12.7 kg of chicken a year. For last year, the figure is estimated at about 39.46 kg per person. In spite of this threefold rise, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tolerance level for arsenic in chicken of 500 ng/g, set decades ago, has not been revised.
David Wallinga, Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat, Report, IATP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, 2006Related studies
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