Vegan Health ArticlesArsenic in Chicken
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From Michael Greger, MD

After reviewing 5000 chicken samples, researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service recently calculated alarmingly high levels of arsenic contamination in the flesh of broiler chickens[1] These government researchers found that the amount of arsenic in chicken greatly exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's new upper safety limit of arsenic allowed in drinking water. In fact, the amount of arsenic found in chicken was 6 to 9 times that allowed by the EPA. A "bucket" of Kentucky Fried Chicken would be expected to have up to almost fifty times the amount of arsenic allowed in a glass of water.[2]

How did the arsenic get into the chickens? The poultry industry fed it to them. Most broiler chickens (which constitute 99% of the chicken meat that people eat) are fed arsenic in the United States[3,4] Although fish and shellfish also present significant dietary sources of arsenic,[6] according to the Food and Drug Administration arsenic compounds are extensively added to the feed of animals--particularly chickens and pigs--to make them grow faster.[5] The animals Americans eat are so heavily infested with internal parasites that adding arsenic to the feed can result in a "stunning" increase in growth rates.[7]

Dr. Ellen Silbergeld, a researcher from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said the poultry industry's practice of using arsenic compounds in its feed is something that has not been studied. "It's an issue everybody is trying to pretend doesn't exist," she said.[8] "Arsenic acted as a growth stimulant in chickens -- develops the meat faster -- and since then, the poultry industry has gone wild using this ingredient," says Donald Herman, a Mississippi agricultural consultant and former Environmental Protection Agency researcher who has studied this use of arsenic for a decade. "And they've tried everything to refrain it from becoming public knowledge,".[9]

The poultry industry argues that the organic form of arsenic given to chickens isn't toxic.[10] "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."[11] The researchers, however, found not only elevated levels of organic arsenic in chicken meat, they found elevated levels of the highly toxic inorganic form typically used only in insecticides and weed killers.[12] And cooking the muscles of these animals may create additional toxic arsenic by-products.[13]

Inorganic arsenic is considered one of the prominent environmental causes of cancer mortality in the world.[14] 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.[15]

The feeding of arsenic to chickens in the U.S. releases hundreds of tons of arsenic into the environment every year in the form of poultry manure which is spread on fields as fertilizer.[16] In fact there's currently a coalition of families suffering serious health conditions suing chicken producers like Tyson after research showed cancer rates as much as 50 times above the national average in communities neighboring factory farmed poultry operations.

The February 2004 Medical Letter on the CDC & FDA concludes "Chicken consumption may contribute significant amounts of arsenic to total arsenic exposure of the U.S. population..." Levels of arsenic in chicken are so high that other sources may have to be monitored carefully to prevent undue toxic exposure among the population.[17]

REFERENCES (Arsenic in Chicken):

1 Environmental Health Perspectives 112(2004):18.

2 One KFC bucket contains 3 legs, 3 breasts, 3 wings and 3 thighs  weighing a total of 1176 grams  containing up to 108.5 mcg of inorganic arsenic [Environmental Health Perspectives 112(2004):18] exceeding to EPA limit on an 8oz. glass of water by a factor of 48.4 [EPA 815- Z- 01- 001].

3 Momplaisir, G. M; C. G. Rosal; E. M. Heithmar "Arsenic Speciation Methods for Studying the Environmental Fate of Organoarsenic Animal- Feed Additives," U. S. EPA, NERL- Las Vegas, 2001; (TIM No. 01- 11)

4 Medical Letter on the CDC & FDA February 1, 2004

5 Momplaisir, G. M; C. G. Rosal; E. M. Heithmar "Arsenic Speciation Methods for Studying the Environmental Fate of Organoarsenic Animal- Feed Additives," U. S. EPA, NERL- Las Vegas, 2001; (TIM No. 01- 11)

6 Ibid.

7 Texas Lawyer, January 23, 1995

8 Daily Times (Salisbury, MD) January 4, 2004

9 Texas Lawyer, January 23, 1995

10 Daily Times (Maryland) 11 January 2004.

11 Health Day News 19 January 2004.

12 Environmental Health Perspectives 112(2004):18.

13 Hanaoka, K., Goessler, W., Ohno, H., Irgolic, K. J., and Kaise, T., (2001). Formation of toxic arsenical in roasted muscles of marine animals, Appl. Organometal. Chem., 15: 61- 66.

14 Smith, A.H., C. Hopenhayn-Rich, M.L. Bates, H.M. Goeden, I. HertzPicciotto, H.M. Duggan, R. Wood, M.J. Kosnett, and M.T. Smith. 1992. Cancer risks from arsenic in drinking water. Environmental Health Perspectives 97, 259-267.

15 Momplaisir, G. M; C. G. Rosal; E. M. Heithmar "Arsenic Speciation Methods for Studying the Environmental Fate of Organoarsenic Animal- Feed Additives," U. S. EPA, NERL- Las Vegas, 2001; (TIM No. 01- 11)

16 Ibid.

17 Medical Letter on the CDC & FDA February 1, 2004

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