Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Arsenic and old lies

I'll have chicken sticks, an order of fries, and could I have cyanide instead of arsenic with that chicken?--I’m sure you will be pleased to learn that that factory-raised chicken you just ate had been fed arsenic to make it plumper and happier. Plumper and happier, is, after all, what factory farming is all about.

At least one huge chicken company, Perdue, requires its farmers to feed their birds roxarsone, a feed additive containing arsenic. Many other producers do as well. The additive fights parasites and produces birds with bigger chests. It gets worse: the chickens poop, and the manure, containing the arsenic, is spread on fields where farmers grow vegetables. Farm workers in the fields handle the stuff. Said one farmer in the Baltimore Sun, “we don’t know what the risks are.” Right.

Not all poultry producers use arsenic. Tyson Foods, the largest, stopped using it last spring, and two other producers have already dropped the additive. Perdue, the largest on the east coast, defends its use, pointing out that the FDA says it is safe.

The Europeans disagree. While the FDA have approved the arsenic additive since 1944, the Europeans ban it because there are no studies attesting to its safety.

A Johns Hopkins study in 2004, found that the levels of arsenic found in young chickens was three or four times higher than in any other poultry and meat, and since the average chicken consumption in the U.S. is 350 grams of chicken per day, people "may ingest 1.38-5.24 microg/day of inorganic arsenic from chicken alone." Some may ingest far more. Perdue claims that the arsenic in the additive is organic arsenic, which is not the same as the classic poison, inorganic arsenic. But a new study out of Dusquesne University in Pittsburgh found that the organic arsenic was chemically and quickly transformed into inorganic, the poisonous, carcinogenic stuff. Bacteria in the soil speeds the conversion along much faster than anyone thought. The inorganic arsenic was found in the fertilizer, which means it also will find its way into drinking water. Other studies have shown similar results. Arsenic also is linked to heart disease and diabetes.

Arsenic also is a byproduct of coal-burning power plants and some mining and smelting operations and is closely monitored. It is banned from pesticides, but is commonly is used in fertilizers on home lawns.

Says the industry spokesman (the National Chicken Council, would you believe): “There’s never been any showings of human health risks from the addition of small amounts of roxarsone to the feed.” The manufacturer of roxarsone, Alpharma, is not amused, calling the studies opinions, not science.

I’ll pass. Actually, in our house we usually use only range-fed, free roaming chickens that have been tickled to death with goose feathers. Talk about plump and happy.

[Thank you , Carol]

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