The FDA announced today that Pfizer Inc., will voluntarily suspend the sale of 3-Nitro (better known as the arsenical drug roxarsone) following the results of an FDA study which found elevated levels of inorganic arsenic in the livers of chicken fed roxarsone compared to a control group. The announcement of both the study results by the FDA and Pfizer’s decision to suspend the sale of roxarsone (beginning in 30 days) come after increasing pressure from both scientific and non-profit sectors calling for the FDA to ban the use of roxarsone and other arsenical-containing drugs used by the animal meat industry. Roxarsone is currently approved for use in swine, turkeys and chickens, , though roxarsone is predominately used by the broiler chicken industry.
According to the FDA press release, the inorganic arsenic levels found in broiler chickens in the study were “very low,” but nevertheless represent an unnecessary risk to public health, as inorganic arsenic is considered a known carcinogen by the FDA. Despite this, FDA representatives today said animals raised using roxarsone are still safe for consumption and there will not be a recall of roxarsone-fed animal meat. “It is curious that the FDA says chickens produced with Roxarsone are safe for consumption, while also acknowledging it poses an increased public health risk,” said Dr. Keeve Nachman of the Center for a Livable Future, who has conducted research on the public health impacts of roxarsone use. “FDA’s study does little to characterize cancer risks to people who have been eating poultry for their entire lives,” he said.
Alpharma, the maker of roxarsone (and a subsidiary company of Pfizer) was alerted by the FDA of their results and voluntarily chose to suspend roxarsone sales for the time being—as roxarsone is found in scores of other veterinary drug formulations, this suspension will impact a variety of drug compounds currently used by the animal meat industry.
As the FDA’s study only tested inorganic arsenic levels in chicken livers, it still remains to be seen if inorganic arsenic is also found in the muscle tissue of animals fed roxarsone—this may be important when the time comes for the FDA to take a formal position on whether or not to enact a complete ban of Roxarsone or other arsenical-based veterinary drugs from use by the animal meat industry.
For now, consumers should consider this removal of roxarsone from animal feed as a major victory for public health—what remains to be seen is whether or not the FDA moves to eventually ban roxarsone and other arsenical-based veterinary drugs from the market and how long Pfizer’s voluntary suspension of roxarsone is maintained.