Arsenic and poultry

David Manly
Monday, 26 August 2013
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Gran.

Aug. 26, 2013 - Arsenic is a known carcinogen, has been used in insecticides and is a very potent poison. It also has been used as an additive to poultry and swine feed in order to increase weight gain and feed efficiency, as well as an anti-parasitic.

And since arsenic is toxic, public health experts believe that exposure through water and food needs to be controlled and exposure should be minimized as much as possible. However, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health have found increased levels of arsenic in retail chicken meat from producers who use arsenic-based drugs.

Keeve Nachman, assistant scientist and director of the Farming for the Future Program, says that with all the knowledge regarding arsenic posing a number of adverse health conditions, use of arsenic-based drugs is still perfectly legal. "Despite this, arsenical drug use remains federally-approved in animal production," he said. "This study sought to understand the chemical form of arsenic that remained in chicken meat as a result of arsenical drug use."

The researchers purchased different types of chicken from major metropolitan areas in the U.S. from December 2010 to June 2011. This time frame was used as it coincided with when an arsenic-based drug, roxarsone, was still readily available. They found that chickens likely raised with the drug had four times higher the levels of inorganic arsenic in their meat than those without drugs.

Interestingly, Nachman found that cooking the chicken made the situation worse – not better. "We also found that cooking the chicken increased the fraction of arsenic that was present in the toxic form, and decreased residues of the original, less toxic arsenic-based drug."

Since some arsenic-based drugs (such as nitarsone) are available to producers, Nachman added, their use equates to an unnecessary risk to consumers. The only solution is clear, says Nachman. "Withdrawing these drugs would lower levels of arsenic in chicken and turkey meat, and lower population arsenic exposures."

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