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This Week’s Creature Feature ... It’s Not Just Chicken Feed

Arsenic additive accumulates in poultry, soil and us

It’s not just chicken feed; it’s arsenic as well that fattens chickens in their short seven-week lifespan from egg to market. The chicken we love to eat fried, sautéed, roasted and broiled contains traces of the poisonous element. That’s one finding of a new study commissioned by the Maryland General Assembly and done by the University of Maryland’s Harry R. Hughes Center for Argo-Ecology in Queenstown.
    Arsenic in any of several formulas is added to chicken feed to ward off parasites that thrive in the close confinement of factory chicken farms. Arsenic-fed chickens also seem to fatten faster.
    We’re not the only place all that arsenic-laced chicken feed winds up. Manure is the unavoidable byproduct of chickens, Maryland’s number one agricultural product. Between 2005 and 2009, 1.5 billion Maryland broiler chickens excreted almost 55 tons of arsenic in their manure, according to John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
    Much of the manure is spread on farm fields, concentrating arsenic in Maryland soil and running off into Maryland waters.
    The Hughes Center scientists found that the arsenic in chicken manure and soil was inorganic, the kind that results from the breakdown of the drugs used in chicken feed. The accumulation over time means “the use of arsenic as a feed additive is not a sustainable practice,” the scientists concluded.
    The Hughes Center’s conclusion about human exposure is supported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which earlier this year released data demonstrating that chickens bred for human consumption and fed arsenic display elevated levels of inorganic arsenic.
    Not enough, according to the Hughes Center review of earlier scientific studies, to knock you dead, cartoon-style. But enough, over a lifetime, to concentrate a known carcinogen in your body. Cardio-vascular disease and neurological disorders are also potential effects of arsenic.
    As a result of the Food and Drug Administration finding, one feed producer, Pfizer, suspended the sale of Roxarsone, the leading arsenical drug used in chicken feed. Other arsenic feed additives are still being used.
    Together, the studies are the ammunition Food and Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy group, needed to try again to get legislation through the Maryland General Assembly.
    “A ban on all arsenic in chicken feed is our goal in 2012,” Bay Weekly heard from Jorge Aguilar, the Watch’s southern regional director.