January 25, 2012

Third Time’s the Charm? The 2012 Arsenic Roundup

Jared Margulies, MS

Jared Margulies, MS

Guest Blogger

Center for a Livable Future

For the third time in as many years, legislation to ban arsenical drugs from poultry feed has been introduced in Maryland, with House Bill 167 introduced on Tuesday. The ban, if enacted, would help to curb the ongoing problem of arsenical drug use by the poultry industry, and associated public health risks to poultry consumers. For a glimpse of what’s in store for Maryland on this important issue, here’s an update on all things arsenic and the prospects for similar legislation in this upcoming session:

During the 2011 legislative session, bills calling for a ban on arsenical drugs in poultry feed were held up by the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and by the House of Delegates’ Environmental Matters Committee, which jointly called for a review of the science on the environmental effects of arsenic-based drugs in poultry.  Since that time, the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology has completed this task, and you can read their review here.  While I suggest those particularly interested in this subject to read the entire report, some strong, clear language in the report concludes that “a sustainable practice is generally assumed to be one that can be continued indefinitely with no adverse environmental effects.

Based on the current criteria used by DNEC (Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control) to identify soils where total arsenic is of environmental and ecological concern (11 mg/kg), their calculations and field data suggest that it would be prudent to investigate alternatives to the use of roxarsone or other organo-arsenicals in poultry production.”

Unfortunately, as CLF director Robert Lawrence wrote about previously, the mandate by the respective Senate and House of Delegates’ committees for a review of the science was not inclusive of the public health literature. As mandated, the Hughes Center assessed environmental and ecological concerns, while steering clear of comprehensively assessing threats to human health. While we applaud our colleagues at the Hughes Center for their assessment of the environmental science literature regarding the use of arsenical drugs and their suggestion that the use of roxarsone and other arsenial drugs represents an unsustainable practice, it is discouraging that the Senate and House of Delegates’ environmental committees did not see fit to call for additional review of the public health literature on the subject, which would have investigated the impact on human health.  You can read our full comments regarding the Hughes Center report here (CLF Comments on HCAE Report).

So what are the chances for legislation to ban arsenic from poultry feed in Maryland in 2012? At the recent Annapolis Summit hosted by radio personality Marc Steiner, CLF’s Tyler Smith got a chance to ask Governor Martin O’Malley if he would support legislation to ban arsenical drugs from poultry feed. You can hear the Governor’s (somewhat ambiguous) response here (it starts at 33:08). The Governor does repeatedly say he will let the science guide his decision whether or not to support such a bill, and if this means he will follow the Hughes Center report’s findings, I am hopeful that 2012 may be the lucky year that Maryland’s leaders choose to stop this unnecessary and dangerous practice.


  1. This was an excellent and informative blog. Thanks for the round up. I, too, wish the Hughes Center would have investigated human health. Maybe next time.

  2. Pingback: Third Times The Charm The 2012 Arsenic Roundup Center For A

  3. Forget even the arsenic getting into our food. Isn’t this photo disgusting enough? Do you want to eat eggs or the flesh of chickens forced to live with dying chickens within inches from them?

    This is a farm factory. Chickens are no longer roaming in the farmer’s yard. We need to wake up to what has happened to the livestock we picture so bucolically. It’s disgusting and horrible. Enough to make me consider being a vegetarian. I mean – come on – it’s gross.

    Question what cage free really means for example. It means no cages – instead hundreds of birds crammed into a buildings floor like sardines. Not in some living grassy yard.

    Living chickens are treated as a product and as in all factories – some of the product doesn’t make it out the door for sale.

    If a box of wheaties gets smashed – not so bad. But when your product is alive…



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