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 >
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: 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.
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 >
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 >