What Carcinogens Are in Your Turkey?

turkeyOn 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.

Ban On Arsenicals Is Common Sense

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.”

The bill (H.R. 3624), known as the “Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2009,” would prohibit all uses of roxarsone as a food additive in animals.

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 >