Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Hold the Arsenic, Please!

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Chickens pecking at feed

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Despite rigorous testing and assurances from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that seafood and other food products imported from Japan are safe for consumption, three in four Americans in a recent study said they were not ready to purchase food from Japan, according to research presented at a symposium at the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo®. The fear is generated from the recent earthquake, tsunami flooding, and radiation leaks from the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant.

As I read this article, I wonder if Americans are concerned about other aspects of our current food supply.  Problems have been in the news lately with the E.coli scare in Germany traced to organic sprouts.  Another headline: “FDA Admits Supermarket Chickens Test Positive for Arsenic” from Civil Eats.  Another reads, “Apples may top pesticide list” from the LA Times and still another, “The Scariest Chart About Seafood You’ll See This Year” (The Atlantic).  From the Huffpost we see, “Ag Gag 2011: What Does Agribusiness Have to Hide in Iowa?”

What is going on here?

Chickens with Arsenic?

According to Tom Philpott, “The idea is that it makes them grow faster – fast growth being the supreme goal of factory animal farming – and helps control a common intestinal disease called coccidiosis.”  The practice is defended by that fact that the arsenic shed in poultry manure is in an organic form (carbon containing) that is not toxic.  However, the problem is that arsenic changes from organic to inorganic form very easily and the inorganic form is highly toxic.  It can move into ground and surface water.

The arsenic is administered to chicken feed by a drug called by a Pfizer drug, Roxarsone – as well as other arsenic drugs since 1944.  The FDA has finally taken notice of this practice after the USDA has ignored it for decades.  The chicken industry claimed that the arsenic could not get into the meat; however the FDA has recently shown that chickens from some supermarkets given the drug do indeed test positive for inorganic arsenic, especially in their livers.

The FDA reports that the levels are low and do not pose a risk. Pfizer however, is withdrawing the drug voluntarily from the market.  The problem may not be automatically solved due to the other arsenic drugs for animals on the market.  The European Union has banned all arsenic products from animal feed, by the way.

According to Food & Water Watch, the USDA tested only one out of every 12 million domestically produced chickens between 2000 and 2008.  The FDA tested 100 chickens, while millions are produced and sold every year. This does not much for their surveillance practices.

The chicken industry says that most of the arsenic is excreted from the chickens before we eat the meat – but where does it go?  It is excreted by the birds and after that it does not break down or degrade in the environment.  It ends up in the ecosystem and can contribute to water pollution.

Two of the major chicken processors have presumably supported this practice in the past.  Perdue resisted legislation to ban the additive in Maryland and Tyson Foods have made similar protests to ban the additive.  Let’s hope that the other companies producing arsenic containing drugs will voluntarily withdraw their products from the market, so that the U.S. consumer and the environment is also protected from these poisons like our neighbors in Europe.

Isn’t it bad enough that Big Ag in the U.S. has been adding antibiotics to animal feed for quite a while?  Recently, it has been reported that this practice may be contributing to bacteria becoming resistant to several antibiotics and thus becoming useless for human treatment of some very nasty infections.

In a recent blog here, entitled Dirty Birds and More, I reported, “one hundred thirty-six samples of beef, chicken, pork, and turkey representing 80 brands of meat were sampled from supermarkets in the U.S.  More than half of them (47%) contained strains of Staphylococcus aureus, that cause what is commonly referred to as “Staph infections.  Of these, 52% were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.”

Do we need any more reasons to stop eating factory-farmed chicken? Chickens end up being the most abused animals on the planet as well as the impact on human health.  If you have chicken, at least buy from a local farmer who more than likely does not add antibiotics or other poisons such as arsenic to a chicken that has led a happy, healthy life.  Also look for chickens from Animal Welfare Approved farms.

Future blogs will address the seafood problem as well as the apple issue with pesticides.   No wonder Big Ag is resisting us knowing about their “dirty little secrets”.

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