Monday, April 16, 2012

Is There Arsenic in Your Chicken?

If the threat of E. coli or antibiotics in your meat doesn't make your stomach turn, maybe arsenic will. A recent slew of editorials and news stories allege that arsenic, typically in the form of chicken feed additive, Roxarsone, is routinely fed to poultry to reduce infections and make flesh an appetizing shade of pink.

Although arsenic is a naturally occurring substance and is relatively benign in its organic form, once chickens consume the organic matter, it becomes inorganic arsenic which is believed to have carcinogenic properties. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause bladder, lung, skin, kidney, and colon cancer, as well as deleterious immunological, neurological, and endocrine effects. View "safe" levels of arsenic here.

Researchers at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy performed a study on chicken meat and found that nearly three-quarters of the samples from conventional producers had detectable levels of arsenic, but only a third of samples from certified organic and other premium chicken suppliers had detectable levels. Additionally, no arsenic was discovered in samples from Tyson and Foster Farms – both companies stopped using roxarsone in feed several years back.

Amid the negative press, Maryland became the first state to ban arsenic from chicken feed. Maryland delegate, Tom Hucker was quoted in the Washington Post saying:

“I would think it’s a huge marketing opportunity for Maryland chicken growers to let consumers know only Maryland chickens are guaranteed to be free of arsenic.”

While, this is great news for Maryland, it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem for the rest of the country.

For the average omnivore, what chicken is trustworthy? Besides Tyson and Foster Farms Chickens, All McDonalds’ suppliers along with well-known Perdue Farms have ceased using the additive.

In response to the recent uproar, Mike Brown, President of the National Chicken Council, released a statement to the NYtimes today claiming that many of the arsenic studies were biased and inconclusive. He states:

“Consumers should know that the Agriculture Department tests all chicken meat for chemicals and antibiotic residues and inspects all chicken meat for wholesomeness before it enters the marketplace.”

As always, there is evidence to support both sides of the issue. I, for one, don’t plan to dramatically alter my eating habits, but will definitely keep these findings in the back of my mind next time I hit up the grocery store.

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