FDA Finds Arsenic in Chicken, Poultry Drug Withdrawn

Government testing reveals that chicken produced and consumed in the United States might contain arsenic. US News reports that one drug maker is suspending sale of <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/defective_drugs">3-Nitro, an animal drug, because the drug contains organic arsenic. Organic arsenic can change into inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Also known as Roxarsone, 3-Nitro was approved by the FDA in 1944, and has long been used as a feed additive in broiler chickens to mitigate coccidiosis, an intestinal disease that affects animals, said US News. The drug also helps increase weight gain and feed efficacy and is known to improve meat color. The drug is also approved for turkeys and pigs, said WebMD; however, about 90 percent is used on chickens.

“The levels of inorganic arsenic found in chicken livers are very low and represent a very low health risk to people who eat chicken,” said Dr. Bernadette Dunham, director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, quoted US News. “Consumers can continue to eat chicken as 3-Nitro is suspended from the market,” she said. “Furthermore, FDA does not believe there is a need to recall chicken already in commerce,” she added.

Pfizer Inc.’s Alpharma division stopped production of 3-Nitro following testing of 100 chickens treated with the drug. The tests revealed that the poultry contained increased arsenic levels, versus untreated chickens, wrote US News. Of note, the FDA pointed out that organic arsenic is naturally occurring in the environment, typically found in water, air, soil, and food. Recent studies found that the less toxic arsenic—organic arsenic—which is found in 3-Nitro, can turn into inorganic arsenic, which is deadlier, said the FDA, wrote US News. This is the arsenic form found in the livers of those chickens who were treated with 3-Nitro. The FDA testing, said WebMD, although completed in February 2010, was just released this week.

3-Nitro has received other FDA reviews and approvals, most recently, in 2009, said the FDA. The agency assumed the drug’s organic arsenic would be excreted as organic arsenic, which is not a carcinogen. “Until recently, scientific evidence indicated that animals exposed to organic arsenic rapidly excrete the compound in its original form—as organic arsenic. FDA approved the product at doses and withdrawal times that, based on this available information, allowed for the safe and effective use of the product when used according to the label directions,” the agency said, quoted US News.

The FDA, said Alpharma will be selling 3-Nitro for the next month to enable farmers to find other ways of preventing coccidiosis in their animals, said US News. Chickens sold as “antibiotic free” are not fed 3-Nitro, said WebMD.

WebMD pointed out that birds treated with 3-Nitro tested with 800 times more total arsenic in their livers and 14 times more total arsenic in their meat, versus untreated birds, even following the five-day “washout period” which is mandated before butchering arsenic-treated chickens. Also, chickens treated with 3-Nitro, tested with 300 times more total arsenic in their livers and nine-fold more in their meat.

“Arsenic in chicken production poses a risk not only to human health, but to the environment,” Consumer’s Union senior scientist Michael Hansen, PhD, said, quoted WebMD. “Arsenic can end up in the manure from chicken coops and this is spread on agricultural land as fertilizer. Chicken coop floor waste is also routinely swept up and recycled as feed to cows on large-scale feedlots. We need to get arsenic out of food production altogether.”

With the suspension of this drug, one approved arsenic-containing animal drug remains on the market, said US News. Nitarson, also manufactured by Alpharma, is used on poultry. Little is known about this drug; however, Dr. Bill Flynn, deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said the agency will be looking into the drug, wrote US News.

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