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