It’s like evil Russian nesting dolls. Farmers feed chickens arsenic, people eat the chickens, and then people have arsenic inside them. That can’t be good.
The arsenic at issue isn’t the same as the lethal “Arsenic and Old Lace” poison. By the time it reaches people’s guts it is inorganic arsenic, and instead of killing quickly, it can work slowly toward the same end using any number of weapons: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, cognitive defects.
Chris Hunt at The Huffington Post writes that according to industry estimates, 88 percent of chickens raised for human food in the U.S. are fed an arsenic-based drug. That’s 7,920,000,000 chickens.
Meanwhile, arsenic has never been approved for administration to animals raised for food in the European Union, Japan and elsewhere — it is banned, rather randomly, in the state of Maryland.
The purpose of the toxic medicine is — hold onto your seats — to give the meat a “healthy color.” Nothing like arsenic to induce that rosy glow. The drug also makes chickens gain weight faster while eating less, which saves farmers money. Based on that math, you gotta figure they will fight pretty hard to keep their budget-boosting arsenic.
Chicken-eaters who are thinking that they will just cook their meat up real good and kill that arsenic: forget about it. A study out of Johns Hopkins, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that cooking a bird increases the amount of arsenic in the meat. And eating it raw is (I hope) obviously not recommended either. Almost makes a body consider not eating dead fowl.
Committed poultry-eaters can reduce their arsenic intake by buying organic. The Johns Hopkins study found that organic chicken meat contained the least arsenic, which makes sense given that it is illegal to feed drugs to birds and then sell them as organic. Antibiotic-free chickens, who are allowed to chow down on arsenic, came in next, followed by conventional, medication-laced chickens, who bear the highest arsenic load.
The FDA itself conducted a study finding that the livers of chickens who had to eat Roxarsone, an arsenic-based drug, contained more arsenic than Roxarsone-free birds. This anti-climactic conclusion was enough of a bombshell in the upside-down world of Big Ag for Pfizer division Alpharma to voluntarily withdraw Roxarsone from the market. (Don’t fret for the farmers. They just switched to another Pfizer arsenic drug, called nitarsone.)
Food safety advocates are hacked off that Big Ag is feeding its customers arsenic. So the Center for Food Safety, along with a slew of other like-minded groups, filed a petition three years ago with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) asking it to withdraw its approval of feeding arsenic to animals raised for human consumption. Even though the FDA itself raised concerns of “completely avoidable exposure to a carcinogen” when it studied arsenic in chickens’ livers, it ignored the petition.
But it’s harder than that to shake a determined coalition of activists. Now the FDA finds itself staring down the barrel of a brand-new lawsuit, courtesy of the scorned petitioners.
Paige Tomaselli, senior staff attorney at the Center for Food Safety, noted that the “FDA could easily and immediately fix the problem, but instead puts its head in the sand. We can only conclude the FDA is catering to the companies that continue to sell products containing arsenic that ends up in our food supply.” Sounds right to me: see above re arsenic saving factory farms money.
If the FDA is smart, which it has shown over and over that it is not, it will do the right thing now before wasting taxpayer money by dithering about until a judge forces it to act. Make it the law: don’t let farmers feed animals arsenic.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
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