Last week, a group of Dartmouth researchers released an analysis of foods containing organic brown rice syrup that found concerning levels of arsenic, a human carcinogen also associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neuropathy, and neurocognitive deficits in children. This follows on the heels of studies uncovering arsenic in apple juice and chicken. The arsenic in apple juice is thought to come from arsenic-containing pesticides still in use in countries such as China, but how did arsenic get into the chicken? The poultry industry fed it to them.
Every year an estimated two million pounds of arsenic-containing chemicals have been fed to chickens in the United States. Why would the industry do such a thing? When tens of thousands of birds are crammed into filthy, football field-sized sheds to lie beak-to-beak in their own waste, they can become so heavily infested with internal parasites that adding arsenic to the feed to poison the bugs can result in a dramatic increase in the birds’ growth rates. Also, arsenic can give the carcass a pinkish tinge, which consumers prefer.
Though arsenic-based feed additives have been banned in Europe for over a decade, they continue to be legal in the United States. One drug company announced a suspension of sales last year after the FDA found a particularly toxic form of arsenic in chickens given feed laced with one of the arsenic-containing drugs, but another arsenic-containing poultry drug remains on the market (nitarsone).
Based on the USDA estimates of arsenic levels in the U.S. chicken supply, the prestigious Medical Letter on the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration concluded, “Chicken consumption may contribute significant amounts of arsenic to total arsenic exposure of the U.S. population….Levels of arsenic in chicken are so high that other sources may have to be monitored carefully to prevent undue toxic exposure among the population.” For more, see my NutritionFacts.org video pick above.
It reminds me of the dairy industry adding aluminum to processed cheese to improve sliceability (see Aluminum in Vaccines vs. Food).
For more videos on sources of arsenic, see Fish Intake Biomarker about arsenic in seafood, Avoiding Iodine Deficiency for the arsenic levels in the seaweed hijiki, Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse Than Lead Paint Exposure about supplements, and for background about the organic sweetener, Arsenic in Rice.
Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: Mr. Muskrat / Flickr