A bill to ban Roxarsone and other arsenic-based drugs from Maryland poultry production (H.B. 167) was undermined just hours before it passed the House of Delegates on Monday. An amendment adopted by the House states that the ban will not apply to any arsenic-based drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Under federal law, all drugs—including those that contain arsenic—must be approved by FDA before they can be sold. Because the amendment exempts all FDA-approved drugs, the amendment exempts all arsenical drugs. The bill would no longer protect Marylanders and consumers of Maryland chickens from increased arsenic exposure if companies begin using Roxarsone or an alternative arsenic-based drug once again. Read More >
As a nutrition professional, my focus on chicken has been on healthy preparation methods, appropriate portion sizes, which part of the animal to eat, and what colorful foods should surround it on the plate. Discussion of what happens before the chicken gets to the plate had been rare, until recently, as consumers become more sensitive to what’s going into to our food and how it can affect the environment and our personal health. I recently had my first in-person experience with one of the hurdles in promoting a healthy change in food production. It was a major eye-opener to see how great of a hurdle the legislative process can be. Read More >
The prospect of a ban on the Maryland poultry industry’s use of arsenic-based drugs has become more complicated with a request by Delegate Maggie McIntosh (D–Maryland House of Delegates, District 43) and Senator Joan Carter Conway (D–Maryland State Senate, District 43) for a review of the scientific literature on the environmental effects of arsenic-based drugs in poultry. As a medical doctor and epidemiologist, I am disappointed that Delegate McIntosh and Senator Conway have not contracted with a research body with the capacity to assess potential human health hazards of Roxarsone and other arsenical drugs used by the Maryland poultry industry.
In their request, McIntosh and Conway have asked the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology to conduct the literature review and submit a report to the Maryland General Assembly (the scope of the study can be found here). As the Hughes Center states in their Scope of Work (read Scope of Work Hughes Center 2011 here),“We are not public health/human health experts and therefore cannot comment on concerns in these areas.” Read More >
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.
Dr. Keeve Nachman, Director of the Farming for the Future Program at CLF, spoke at a press conference yesterday in the Maryland House of Delegates. The press conference was organized by Montgomery County Delegate Tom Hucker and Prince George’s County Senator Paul Pinsky. Senator Pinsky and Delegate Hucker are proposing bills in both the House and the Senate which would ban the use of arsenical drugs (including roxarsone), common feed additives in the broiler poultry industry.
The arsenic-containing drug roxarsone is transformed into the toxic inorganic form of arsenic both in the gut of chickens as well as in their waste, where it is then used as a fertilizer for crops. “This creates opportunities for people to be exposed to arsenic in their water and their food, increasing their risks of developing cancer and other health problems,” Dr. Nachman said. Dr. Nachman described the many health threats posed by exposure to inorganic arsenic, which include cancer and cardiovascular disease, among many other health effects.
“This bill will affect every Marylander, their health, and their environment,” Delegate Hucker said.
In addition to Delegate Hucker and Senator Pinsky, Maryland’s Attorney General Douglas Gansler, Food and Water Watch’s Assistant Director Patty Lovera, and Drew Koslow of the Choptank Riverkeeper spoke at the conference in support of the bill and the negative environmental and public health impacts resulting from the use of roxarsone in poultry feed.
Details of the Senate and House versions of the bill can be found HERE for the Senate (Senate Bill SB0417) and HERE for the House (House Bill 0754). Click HERE to read Dr. Nachman’s full press statement.
The following letter to the editor was submitted by the Center for a Livable Future to The Baltimore Sun following an article published in Sunday’s edition on Perdue’s efforts to recycle poultry litter. The article was also discussed in a blog post on B’MoreGreen yesterday.
We were disappointed to see that Timothy Wheeler left out any mention of an important environmental and human health consideration in his recent piece on the Perdue poultry manure pelletization plant (“Perdue manure recycling plant reduces nutrients in bay”).
According to estimates from Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., 88% of domestically produced broiler chickens are fed an arsenic-containing drug called roxarsone. Some of the arsenic from this drug stays behind in the edible portions of the chicken, and the rest ends up in the poultry manure.
Numerous scientific and peer-reviewed research studies have measured heightened levels of arsenic in poultry manure, and research from the United States Geological Survey and other researchers has shown that the arsenic in poultry manure is rapidly converted into an inorganic form that is highly water soluble and capable of moving into surface and ground water.
Inorganic arsenic is recognized by the U.S. EPA as a carcinogen. Earlier this year, the agency released a draft reassessment of arsenic toxicity, which indicates that the most recent evidence suggests that arsenic is 17 times more potent as a carcinogen than previously understood. Arsenic exposures have also been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological deficits, and other health problems. Read More >
Dr. Keeve Nachman, Director of the Farming for the Future Program at the Center for a Livable Future gave invited testimony to the Maryland House of Delegates on Friday, March 5 on the public health risks of arsenic in poultry feed. Delegate Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery Co) introduced the bill, which also received supportive testimony from Douglas Gansler, the state’s Attorney General, a representative from River Keepers, a representative from the Maryland Parent Teacher Association, and a concerned citizen.
Opponents to the bill gave a wide range of unsupported statements of questionable validity why Roxarsone should be included in poultry feed. Among their assertions were statements that Roxarsone promotes environmental sustainability, food safety, and poultry health, improves the rate of weight gain, and because of its widespread use (fed to 88% of chickens in the US), that Roxarsone should be treated as a national issue and not a state issue.
Perdue has publically stated that they do not use Roxarsone, and when questioned by Delegate Steve Lafferty (D-Baltimore Co), none of the four poultry industry representatives could give a concrete reason why Perdue withdrew it from feed.
It is possible that the reasons Perdue are no longer using roxarsone are the following:
- Roxarsone is transformed by bacteria or ultraviolet light into inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen.
- In addition to arsenic in meat, poultry waste from the Mid-Atlantic generates an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 kg of arsenic annually (Christen 2001; Silbergeld and Nachman 2008).
- A market basked sample of cooked and uncooked poultry products conducted by The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found total arsenic in 55% (of 155 samples) of grocery store poultry meat.
“The use of arsenical drugs like roxarsone, combined with the various methods for poultry waste management create opportunities for people to be unnecessarily exposed to inorganic arsenic” says Dr. Nachman. The only way to eliminate these risks is by banning aresnicals in poultry feed.
We will follow MD Bill 953 as it moves through the Environmental Matters committee and report back in the coming weeks.
– Dave Love
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) got folks in New York’s 2nd Congressional District talking turkey about the potential hazards that may be in their Thanksgiving meal.
With a Thanksgiving dinner–complete with all the trimmings–serving as a backdrop, Israel used the press conference to formally announce legislation he introduced in the U.S. House to get arsenic out of the nation’s poultry supply.
CLF’s Science Director, Dr. Keeve Nachman, joined Israel at the press conference on the proposed legislation (H.R. 3624), also called the “Poison Free Poultry Act.” The legislation would ban the use of an arsenical drug called roxarsone, which is commonly added to chicken and poultry feed, from being used as an additive in the U.S. food supply.
“Roxarsone is an arsenic-containing antimicrobial drug that is widely used in poultry production and to a lesser extent in swine production to make food animals grow faster, improve their pigmentation, and to combat intestinal parasites. Studies have shown that some of the arsenic fed to chickens remains in the edible portions of the birds. Arsenic has also been found in poultry waste, where it poses environmental and human health risks when the waste is managed, often by spreading on agricultural fields as fertilizer for food crops,” said CLF’s Nachman, Science Director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and a leading researcher on arsenic in the food supply.
The Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine regulates tolerance levels for animal drug residue. The tolerance levels for arsenic in edible animal tissue are more than three decades old, predating the latest cancer and arsenic exposure research. Arsenic has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological effects, and other health problems.
Israel’s legislation bans roxarsone for use as an additive in the food supply.
According to EPA estimates, the average American adult consumes more than 60 pounds of poultry a year. One way to avoid consuming meat produced using arsenical drugs is by purchasing products labeled “USDA Organic,” which means free of antimicrobial drugs, including roxarsone.
Israel’s legislation is endorsed by a number of organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, The Humane Society of the United States, The Clean Water Network, Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, Food & Water Watch, The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Waterkeeper Alliance, Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water, The Organic Consumers Association, Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Ohio Environmental Council, Friends of the Earth, The Center for Food Safety, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Sierra Club, The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Family Farmers and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
“The conference served as a great opportunity to publicly introduce the bill and to raise awareness among the general public about roxarsone-related food contamination and environmental impacts,” Nachman said after the ceremony. Here’s the full text of Dr. Nachman’s statement and a video from the event
Rep. Israel serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
Response to the President of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association: Use of Roxarsone in poultry and swine feed defies “sustainability.”
Responding to Congressman Steve Israel’s (D-NY) proposed ban on roxarsone – an arsenical growth-promoting additive to swine and poultry feed – John Starkey, President of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, claimed use of the antimicrobial drug in poultry feed “…increases sustainability of production.” Mr. Starkey’s use of the term “sustainability” requires clarification – is he associating roxarsone use in feed with a form of sustainable agriculture, or is he suggesting the practice is necessary to sustain the cost-effectiveness of a poultry operation? Both claims are unsupported, if not wholly contradictory to the evidence. Read More >
Today’s announcement by U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introducing legislation to ban the use of the arsenical compound roxarsone once again shines the spotlight on the all-too common practice of the unnecessary use of antimicrobial drugs in industrial animal production.
“American consumers simply shouldn’t have to ingest this arsenic compound when they sit at the kitchen table,” said Rep. Israel. “There’s a reason some major poultry producers have stopped using it – it can only cause environmental and health problems. With cancer levels on the rise we need to be vigilant about the sources of health problems, and that means banning roxarsone.”
What is roxarsone and why should we be concerned about its use? Roxarsone is an arsenical antimicrobial drug used extensively in poultry and swine production to combat intestinal parasites, speed growth and improve pigmentation. Some large poultry integrators have reported voluntarily withdrawing roxarsone from feed regimens, although I am unaware of efforts to validate these claims. Further, I am unaware of similar voluntary withdrawals from swine producers. Federal agencies do not mandate the reporting of food animal drug usage, making it difficult to characterize the use of the drug in food animal production. Read More >