It seems a pretty sensational headline, but unfortunately every American who eats chicken has probably been exposed to significant levels of arsenic. Even at low levels, this deadly poison has been linked to cancer, diabetes and reduced testosterone levels.



Above: Do you know what your chicken is eating?

Most chicken growers in the US add arsenic to the feed. One such additive is the antibiotic arsenic compound roxarsone. Arsenic additives are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but have been banned in the European Union since 1999. The FDA has been petitioned to ban arsenic, but as far as I know has not acted.

A couple of weeks ago, someone I know tested above the acceptable limit for arsenic. My Google searches for “arsenic” led me to the chicken connection. I realized that this person avoids red meat and eats a lot of chicken and occasionally other white meats, like turkey and pork. (Turkeys and pigs are also fed arsenic, but turkey and pork are usually eaten less frequently than chicken.) I was further alarmed when I came across the case of the Utah children (see story below) who were apparently poisoned by eggs from chickens that they had raised. The arsenic in the chicken feed was implicated, but the lawyer for the feed company said that the evidence was not conclusive.

Much of the US chicken meat has been shown to contain arsenic. Avoid chicken manure! Most of the arsenic eaten by the chickens is excreted! It is not feasible for the general public to be tested, as testing is very expensive and may not be covered by insurance.

There is little for vegetarians to crow about. USA Today (2005):

Rice grown in the USA has low levels of arsenic. But those levels are up to five times higher than those found in rice grown in Europe, India and Bangladesh, says a report in the August edition of Environmental Science and Technology.

Back to chicken. It is likely that American chicken feeds are exported worldwide. Could these additives spawn a global outbreak of cancer and diabetes? I am sure that within the next few months we will be hearing a great deal on this topic.

The American exposure to Arsenic is significant. I hope that it will not be too late and that the adverse health effects will be reversible.

World 2009 - Arsenic compound in chicken affecting Americans

In 1999, recognizing that any level of inorganic arsenic in human food and water is unacceptable, the EU outlawed its use in chicken feed.

Utah children ill from arsenic-laced backyard chicken feed

SALT LAKE CITY - Christina McNaughton wasn’t sure where to begin looking when worrisome levels of arsenic turned up in two Utah County children last summer. The family’s water wasn’t contaminated. Not the soil either.

The trail eventually led McNaughton, a toxicologist for the Utah Department of Health, to the family’s backyard chicken coop — along with the eggs that came out of it, the feed that went into the hens that laid them and, finally, widely used animal-feed additives containing arsenic.

“For everyone who has backyard chickens,” said McNaughton, “this is an issue.”

But the Utah study goes far beyond a Mapleton chicken coop. The use of roxarsone and other arsenic-based additives in poultry and swine feed is at the center of a national controversy.

Arsenic in chicken feed may pose health risks to humans, C&EN reports

Pets may not be the only organisms endangered by some food additives. An arsenic-based additive used in chicken feed may pose health risks to humans who eat meat from chickens that are raised on the feed, according to an article in the April 9 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly news magazine of the American Chemical Society.

Roxarsone, the most common arsenic-based additive used in chicken feed, is used to promote growth, kill parasites and improve pigmentation of chicken meat. In its original form, roxarsone is relatively benign. But under certain anaerobic conditions, within live chickens and on farm land, the compound is converted into more toxic forms of inorganic arsenic. Arsenic has been linked to bladder, lung, skin, kidney and colon cancer, while low-level exposures can lead to partial paralysis and diabetes, the article notes.

Use of roxarsone has become a topic of increasing controversy. A growing number of food suppliers have stopped using the compound, including the nation’s largest poultry producer, Tyson Foods, according to the article. Still, about 70 percent of the 9 billion broiler chickens produced annually in the U.S. are fed a diet containing roxarsone, the article points out.

A Deadly Ingredient in a Chicken Dinner

Inorganic arsenic is a Class A carcinogen that has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and declines in brain function. Recent scientific findings show that most Americans are routinely exposed to between three and 11 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended safety limit.

[PDF] Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat

Further, the USDA and FDA have avoided testing for arsenic in the chicken that people mostly eat, namely muscle tissue. People may be getting a lot more arsenic exposure …

Healthy Child World - Arsenic

The highest levels of arsenic are detected in seafood, poultry, meats (e.g., pork), mushrooms, salt, and grains. Chicken may contain significant arsenic contamination because chicken feed is often supplemented with arsenic-based drugs to control intestinal parasites. One study found arsenic levels three to four times higher in chicken than in other meat and poultry. Generally seafood contains the organic form of arsenic, which is less toxic.

Low level arsenic exposure in water linked to diabetes

Ana Navas-Acien, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, and colleagues studied 788 adults age 20 and older who had their urine tested for arsenic levels as part of a government-conducted 2003-2004 survey.
The researchers found that the 7.7 percent of the participants who had type 2 diabetes, after adjusting for other diabetes risk factors, had a 26 percent higher level of arsenic in their urine than those without the disease.
The study also found that 20 percent of the participants who had the highest arsenic levels in their urine (16.5 micrograms per liter) had 3.6 times higher risk of having type 2 diabetes than the 20 percent with the lowest level (3.0 micrograms per liter).
They concluded that arsenic could influence genetic factors that interfere with insulin sensitivity and other processes, or could contribute to oxygen-related cell damage, inflammation and cell death, which have also been related to diabetes.