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[Archived] Arsenic in poultry feed

| Environment | April 06, 2005

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service recently reported alarmingly high levels of 

arsenic contamination in the flesh of broiler chickens Arsenic in poultry feed 
Posted: Wednesday, April 06, 2005 12:23 PM (PST)

and here is an article from EVISA:
The use of arsenic in "poultry industry"

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the USDA's Food 
Safety Inspection Service recently reported alarmingly high levels of 
arsenic contamination in the flesh of broiler chickens [1]. After having 
reviewed about 5200 chicken samples from the US, these government 
researchers found that the mean concentration of arsenic in young chicken 
was 0.39 ppm, 3- to 4-fold higher than in other poultry and meat. Based on 
the fact that chicken is a meat source of growing importance, it is 
reasonable to assume that arsenic ingested through chicken consumption has a 
significant influence on the arsenic intake by humans.

<> Whether 
these findings are a real threat for human health very much depends on the 
arsenic species present in the meat [2]. The US poultry industry [3] and the 
pharma industry [4 ] argues that the organic form of arsenic given to 
chickens isn't toxic. Indeed, phenylarsonic organic arsenicals are less 
toxic than inorganic compounds or aliphatic and other aromatic organic 
compounds [5 ]. "This study appears to be much ado about nothing," says 
Richard Lobb, the public relations Director of the National Chicken Council. 
He says the less toxic form of arsenic is "used responsibly and safely by 
poultry producers" [6].

However, based on the somewhat outdated and at that time preliminary results 
obtained by Levine [7] and Weiler [8 ], stating that about 65% of arsenic in 
poultry meat is inorganic, the researchers found that consumption of chicken 
meat could alone be responsible for 25% of the tolerable daily intake of 2 
µg/kg/day of inorganic arsenic (WHO 1983) [1]. In contrast, using a modern 
hyphenated technique (IC-ICP-MS), Zbinden et al. reported in a publication 
from 2000 [9 ], that about 68% of the arsenic found in chicken was 
arsenobetaine. To make the picture a bit more complicated, there is some 
indication that cooking the meat may create additional toxic arsenic 
by-products [10].

It seems, that such contrasting results call for further investigation of 
arsenic speciation in chicken tissues both in fresh and cooked meat.

Anyhow, how did the arsenic get into the chickens? According to the US Food 
and Drug Administration arsenic compounds are extensively added to the feed 
of animals--particularly chickens and pigs--to make them grow faster 
[11,12]. Most broiler chickens (which constitute 99% of the chicken meat 
that people eat) are fed arsenic in the United States [11,13 ]. Most of the 
animals are so heavily infested with internal parasites that adding arsenic 
to the feed can result in a "stunning" increase in growth rates [14].

Since the 1970s, the American poultry industry has used certain 
arsenic-based ingredients as chicken feed additives. The three major 
compounds in this class are arsinilic acid, roxarsone 
(4-hydroxy-3-nitrophenylarsonic acid), and nitarsone (4-nitro-phenylarsonic 
acid) [5 ]. Roxarsone is currently the most commonly used arsenical compound 
in poultry feed in the United States, with a usage of 23 to 45 grams of 
chemical per ton of feed for broiler chickens for increased weight gain, 
feed efficiency, improved pigmentation, and prevention of parasites [12,16]. 
Roxarsone is used in turkeys as well as chickens [17]. By design, most of 
the chemical is excreted virtually unchanged in the manure [11,16,18].

Some researchers have started to scrutinize the long-standing practice 
because of possible health and environmental risks. Questions about 
potential risks associated with the use of roxarsone center on the practice 
of spreading manure. Each broiler excretes about 150 milligrams (mg) of 
roxarsone in the 42-day growth period for administering roxarsone. Litter 
collected following this period contains from 15 to 50 milligrams per 
kilogram (mg/kg) of total arsenic. In poultry houses where more than 200 
million broilers per year are raised, a volume not uncommon for major 
poultry-producing areas, litter that contains more than 8 x 103 kg of 
arsenic would be produced. Generally, the litter is used as 
nitrogen-containing fertilizer in nearby fields. Litter is routinely tilled 
into cornfields or applied to pastureland at a rate of between 1 and 2 
metric tons per hectare. If a 100-hectare field was fertilized at 2 metric 
tons per hectare, about 10 kg of arsenic would be introduced to the 
environment [19].

Even if the relative amount of arsenic being added to soil by chicken manure 
might be a small percentage of the total arsenic in the soil, it has a 
higher mobility in water due to the sorption characteristic of arsenic in 
organic matter compared to arsenic sequestered by metal oxides. The high 
extractability of roxarsone from poultry litter suggests that roxarsone can 
easily be mobilized to the environment by either agricultural field 
irrigation or rainfall on uncovered windrows. Degradation could be possible 
through biotic and abiotic processes after roxarsone is mobilized [20 ]. 
Inevitably, arsenic finds its way into the rivers, stream and even the crops 
that are later consumed by humans. Via the way of waste incinerators, it 
also may find its way to the atmosphere [21].

There are also some rumors, that poultry industry, like the beef industry, 
is steeped in evil practices. By feeding chicken litter to cattle, cows are 
ingesting highly toxic arsenic that's contained in the chicken litter [22].

Inorganic arsenic is considered one of the prominent environmental causes of 
cancer mortality in the world [23 ]. Arsenic is a human carcinogen linked to 
liver, lung, skin, kidney, bladder and prostate cancers. It can also cause 
neurological, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and immune system 
abnormalities. Diabetes has also been linked to arsenic exposure [11].

In view of this toxicity and the fact that organic arsenic can be 
transformed to more toxic species, the practice of feeding chickens even 
trace amounts of arsenic seems bizarre.