Is There Arsenic In Your Chicken?

In the second high-profile move on arsenic in the food supply in recent months, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced it will remove three arsenic-containing drug types used to treat food animals, most notably chickens. Altogether, the three drugs were used in 101 formulations as feed additives.

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The move follows its study of arsenic in rice, which found: there is arsenic in rice, but not at levels that should concern most consumers, according to the FDA.

This latest move on arsenic in the food supply will result in an almost total elimination of arsenic from animal feed. The manufacturers of the three drugs indicated to the FDA that they wanted the approvals withdrawn after receiving questions about arsenic in the food supply from the FDA, prompted by the Center for Food Safety’s 2009 petition to remove arsenic from animal feed. They had already “largely removed” them from the market after studies showed arsenic in the food supply, according to Center for Food Safety, but this FDA decision formalized the decision.

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Arsenic has been used in feed in the U.S. since the 1940s to induce faster weight gain on less feed, and create the perceived appearance of a healthy color in meat from chickens, turkeys and hogs. Arsenic was found at detectable levels in samples of meat purchased in grocery stores.

The remains one drug outside of this FDA action, now used in approximately 3% of cases, that still contains arsenic. The Center for Food Safety argues that the arsenic is directly toxic to animals and humans, and can be transformed into a form that is cancer-causing inside chickens, in manure-treated soil and in humans.

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“The withdrawal of these harmful feed additives is a major victory for consumers and the health of our food system. It is unfortunate that legal pressure from outside groups was necessary to spur action by FDA, yet in the end, we are pleased that FDA listened to our scientific objections and is now working to rid arsenic from our meat supply,” said Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety.

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Consumers who choose organic chicken should have avoided much of the fuss. If any arsenic is found in organic chicken, it’s likely because arsenic is present in the soils where those chicken are raised–not because the chickens were fed it, as was common on U.S. conventional chicken farms.

One drug containing arsenic, used to treat a potentially fatal disease in farmed turkeys, is still on the market.