Since the 1940s, nearly 70 percent of the chickens and turkeys raised for meat in the U.S., as well as some hogs, were fed food laced with arsenic, a known carcinogen. Now, the FDA has banned 98 out of 101 arsenic-based drugs for food animals.
For more than four years, the Center for Food Safety and other groups have been petitioning and seeking legal action against the FDA to end the dangerous practice of using arsenic in animal feed. Farmers add the compound to animals’ feed because it kills parasites, causes the animals to gain more weight with less food, and produces a “healthy” pink color in the meat.
“The withdrawal of these harmful feed additives is a major victory for consumers and the health of our food system,” Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that legal pressure from outside groups was necessary to spur action by FDA, yet in the end, we are pleased that FDA listened to our scientific objections and is now working to rid arsenic from our meat supply.”
With its ruling, the FDA acknowledged that several recent studies raised concerns about the safety of arsenic-based drugs in animal feed. The FDA denied petitioner’s request to ban the drug nitarsone, saying more research is needed.
In 2001, a study found higher levels of inorganic arsenic (the dangerous kind) in chickens treated with Roxarsone. The FDA said in 2011 that consumers shouldn’t worry about the levels of arsenic found in the chicken meat, but public opposition to the practice has persisted.
Maryland became the first state in the U.S. to ban the use of arsenic in animal feed in January 2013, despite the fact that the compound has been banned in Europe, Japan, and many other countries for decades. Moving forward, individual farmers may not have a choice on what feed to use, as the industrial processors they work with provide the chickens and the feed. Even for smaller operations where farmers do choose the feed for their hens, most states do not have labeling laws that would require the arsenic to be labeled on the feed.
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