Chicken Meat May Contain Arsenic, but Safe to Eat
A chicken feed ingredient known as 3-Nitro or Roxarsone has been used since the 1940’s in broiler chickens to control coccidiosis (a parasitic disease that affects the intestinal tracts of animals), to speed weight gain, and to improve the color of the meat. The drug contains small amounts of arsenic which was once thought to be eliminated in chicken waste, but has now been found to accumulate in the liver. Pfizer Inc, the company that makes Roxarsone, has announced that it will remove the drug from the market in the United States.
Levels are Low, and Chicken Meat is Safe to Eat, Says FDA
Alpharma LLC, a subsidiary of Pfizer, has conducted a voluntary study in conjunction with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 100 chickens that had eaten feed with Roxarsone. The birds contained higher levels of inorganic arsenic in their livers than chickens that had eaten feed without the drug. The inorganic form of arsenic is more toxic than the naturally occurring organic form and is considered a carcinogen. However, the agency notes that some chicken meat intended to be eaten may contain some arsenic, but the amount is too small to be dangerous to people.
Alpharma will suspend sales of Roxarsone next month. The company said it will not withdraw the chemical immediately so that producers will have time to transition their chickens off the drug.
"The levels of inorganic arsenic found in chicken livers are very low and represent a very low health risk to people who eat chicken," said Dr. Bernadette Dunham, director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, during a press conference. "Consumers can continue to eat chicken as 3-Nitro is suspended from the market. Furthermore, FDA does not believe there is a need to recall chicken already in commerce."
The use of Roxarsone, which is also approved for swine and turkey production, hs declined in recent years as it has been a source of concern for environmental and consumer groups worried about its presence in chicken waste. Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, notes that arsenic from chicken manure may be spread on agricultural land as fertilizer or recycled as feed to cows.
"Inorganic arsenic is cancer-causing and action on this drug is long overdue," said Hansen. “We need to get arsenic out of food production altogether."
Pfizer also sells Roxarsone to other countries, including Canada, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietname, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, and Pakistan. The company said that it would be informing the other countries’ regulatory systems of the US action and will “take the appropriate action.”