March 9, 2010

CLF provides House testimony on Maryland Bill 953 to ban arsenic from poultry feed

Dave Love

Dave Love

Associate Scientist, Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture Project

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future


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


  1. Thanks for keeping us posted on us! I had no idea arsenic feed was so widespread. Maybe you could post some places you can find non-arsenic fed chickens in Baltimore?

  2. hi baltimoregon,
    Great question. I admit, it is difficult for a conscientious consumers to navigate the grocery aisle. All USDA certified ‘organic’ poultry should be free of arsenicals. With conventional poultry, there is no guarantee but Perdue says they don’t use Roxarsone (the arsenic containing drug). If you shop for meat at the farmers market, you can always ask your farmer– they should know what is in her/his feed.

  3. I would be most interested to hear how the major Roxarsone producer(s) are lobbying here, specifically who. This could be a major victory for the Chesapeake.

  4. I am one of the Riverkeepers who testified in favor of this bill. Pressure from Big Chicken on Maryland’s elected officials, from the Gov. on down, is succeeding in killing this measure.

    Although Perdue claims they do not use Roxarsone, Perdue officials at both hearings said they do not support the bill.

    The biggest problem with arsenic in chicken feed is what is passed through in the chicken poop and the fact it becomes a toxic form of arsenic as it passes through the chicken.

    The poop (billions of tons of it) is spread on Maryland’s Eastern Shore farmlands which are very high in phosphorus. Arsenic does not bond to soils high in P, and it is also water soluble, so most of it washes into our waterways or goes down into our groundwater.

    Big Chicken is louder than Maryland’s citizens – you need to contact your Maryland legislators or better, write letters to your local papers.

  5. Pingback: CLF Knows What’s in the Nation’s Chicken | Center for a Livable Future

  6. Pingback: CLF Knows What’s in the Nation’s Chicken | Center for a Livable Future

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