Arsenic Absorption is a Continuing Concern Arsenic being added to chicken and turkey feed should pose a particular concern for consumers. Since arsenic is an anti­microbial, its use is intended to reduce parasite infestations in poultry. But arsenic based feeds such as Roxarsone, also helped to increase the weight of these birds, and make their flesh a color that is more appealing to consumers who see it on display in grocery stores.

Some scientists at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere raised alarms that the arsenic absorbed by the chickens gets passed on up the food chain into humans, whose guts convert the arsenic into an inorganic state that is a known carcino­gen increasing cancer risk. A science report found that most supermarket chicken-and all fast-food chicken analyzed­ tested positive for arsenic residues.

After years of refusing to examine the issue of arsenic additives in chicken feed, or the health implications for humans, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finally acknowledged in 2011, that supermarket chickens had tested positive for arsenic residues. These residues were mostly from chicken feed tainted with the arsenic drug Roxarsone, made by Pfizer phar­maceuticals. This particular arsenic drug was subsequently removed from the market.

Over the next year, after this admission, press releases were pumped out by the National Chicken Council under headlines such as, “Arsenic & Chicken? No need to worry.” The industry insisted that “the level of arsenic typically found in food and water is largely considered to be benign.”

In answer to the poultry industry claims about health safety, a team of six scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Department of Environmental Health Sciences, published a 2013 study in Environmental Health Perspectives, examining the link between inorganic arsenic and bladder and lung can­cer risk. These scientists tested chicken samples from grocery stores in 10 U.S. metropolitan areas through June of 2011.

They found disturbing levels of arsenic in 65 of 116 raw sam­ples, and from 78 of 142 cooked chicken samples mostly sold in deli departments of the supermarkets. These were only chicken breast samples, so arsenic levels in complete chick­ens may have been higher if thigh, wings, and leg levels were factored in.

Given the amount of chicken that the average American consumes-a little over 80 pounds a year-and the arsenic levels found in the chicken, the research team determined that hundreds of additional cases of bladder and lung cancer could be attributed to poultry consumption, as a direct result of inorganic arsenic exposure. Two more scientific studies, both released in March 2017, and both in Environmental Health Perspectives, further detailed the link between arsenic in poultry and the impact on human health. In one, scientists from Columbia University and Johns Hopkins took urine samples from 3,329 persons to determine inorganic arsenic levels compared to poultry consumption. Evidence stated “that the historical use of arsenic-based poultry drugs {in chickens and turkeys} con­tributed to arsenic exposure in the US. Population,” and that exposure could have triggered cancer.

The second study focused on the use of nitarsone, an arse­nic-based poultry drug used on turkeys. Though withdrawn from use in the U.S. in 2015, its use in other countries that sell poultry to the U.S. continues. Based on the arsenic levels in raw turkey meat sampled in three U.S. cities, and the average consumption of turkey by U.S. consumers, bladder and lung cases in the U.S. were increased by an unknown number.

By Brian Clement, PhD, LN | Poison Poultry 



“Study shows elevated arsenic in U.S. chicken meat.” Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future. May 13, 2013. http://hub.jhu . edu/2013/05/ 13/chicken-meat-arsenic-levels/

“Arsenic & Chicken? No need to worry.” National Chicken Council. www. Sept. 18, 2012.

“Roxarsone, Inorganic Arsenic, and Other Arsenic Species in Chicken: A U.S.-Based Market Basket Sample.”Nachman K.E. Et al. Environ Health Perspect. 2013 July.

“Poultry Consumption and Arsenic Exposure in the U.S. Population.” Nigra AE. Et al. Envrion Health Perspect. 2017 March. 19 “Nitarsone, Inorganic Arsenic, and Other Arsenic Species in Turkey Meat: Exposure and Risk Assessment Based on a 2014 U.S. Market Bas­ket Sample.”Nachman K.E. Et al. Environ Health Perspect. 2017 March.


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