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Big Pharma, Chicken and Arsenic

by Guy McCardle

June 9, 2011

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Donate The FDA announced yesterday that an arsenic containing drug used in chicken feed will no longer be allowed to be sold in the U.S. after they found a more dangerous form of arsenic in chickens that were fed the chemical. A subsidiary of Pfizer pharmaceuticals must stop making Roxarsone which was routinely fed to chickens to prevent the intestinal parasite that causes coccidiosis and to improve their pigmentation. It also helped the birds gain weight. Chickens that had been given the drug had higher levels of inorganic arsenic in their edible tissue, compared to chickens who had not.

Is the chicken safe to eat? The FDA says yes and that the levels of contamination are "very low". No recall of the poultry is planned. I guess what does not kill you only makes you stronger. How, one may wonder, did the FDA approve arsenic as safe for consumption in an animal intended for food? The answer is that scientific knowledge at the time of the approval was that the arsenic in Roxarsone would be excreted as organic arsenic, which is not known to be a carcinogen. They thought this organic form of arsenic was passed by the feces of the animals that consumed it. Recently, however, the FDA conducted additional testing of Roxarsone in response to scientific reports that organic arsenic could be metabolized into the inorganic form by poultry. A multi- year study, concluding in February of this year, proved that indeed was the case and the result was the recent ban of the drug for use in chicken feed.

Personally, I intend to keep on eating chicken. At least until it is proven to me that it is unsafe to do so. After all, low levels of arsenic are found naturally in soil and water in both organic and inorganic forms. My hope is that American consumers can look at this situation rationally and decide whether they want to forgo chicken or not.

Stay alert, stay informed and choose wisely.


by Guy McCardle

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