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After Intense Pressure, Feds Ban 97 Percent of Arsenic Products in Animal Feed
After intense public pressure, the Food and Drug Administration has announced (see PDF) it is withdrawing approval of 97 percent of the arsenic compounds used in animal feed. The FDA decision comes in response to a 2009 scientific petition and a lawsuit filed earlier this year by a coalition of food-safety, agriculture, public-health and environmental groups. Arsenic in animal feed ends up in chicken and other meats, posing a danger to people and contaminating the environment and water supplies.
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“The withdrawal of these harmful feed additives is a major victory for consumers and the health of our food system. It is unfortunate that legal pressure from outside groups was necessary to spur action by FDA, yet in the end, we are pleased that FDA listened to our scientific objections and is now working to rid arsenic from our meat supply,” said Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety.
Arsenic is commonly added to poultry feed to induce faster weight gain on less feed, as well as change meat color in chickens, turkeys and hogs. A report by the Institute for Trade and Agriculture Policy estimated that more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens raised for meat are fed arsenic, and testing of supermarket bought and fast food chicken found that much of it contained some level of arsenic.
“The actions by FDA and industry confirm what we’ve been saying for seven years, the use of arsenic in animal feed is not necessary and poses needless risk to public health,” said Ben Lilliston, vice president for program at the Institute for Trade and Agriculture Policy. “The FDA’s response is long overdue to reduce exposure to arsenic and should launch a more comprehensive evaluation of health risks associated with animal feed produced by the pharmaceutical industry.”
Arsenic is directly toxic to animals and humans and can convert to cancer-causing, inorganic arsenic inside of chickens, humans, manure-treated soil and the environment. When arsenic in animal waste reaches waterways, it poses a danger to aquatic wildlife, along with other wildlife that drinks contaminated water. Concentrations of arsenic in water, at levels as low as 1 part per billion, have been reported to disrupt aquatic ecosystems by inhibiting the growth of certain aquatic plants. Fish are particularly susceptible to arsenic poisoning, and the practices of animal feeding operations contribute to poor water quality, harming numerous freshwater species.
“This is a significant step to prevent the meat industry from poisoning the food chain with deadly arsenic,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Arsenic in our food and waterways threatens ecosystems and public health.”
When FDA ordered the arsenic manufacturers to provide additional studies about the risks of arsenic in animal feed earlier this year, the manufacturers at Zoetis and Fleming Laboratories requested the FDA withdraw approvals of their products instead of providing the necessary safety information. Of the 101 drug approvals for arsenic-based drugs for animals and animal feed, 98 will be withdrawn.
First approved as animal feed additives in the 1940s, arsenic-containing compounds remained legal for use in U.S. chicken, turkey and swine production. They were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan and many other countries. Evidence about the harms of arsenic in animal feed has continued to grow since the groups provided a 2009 petition to the FDA requesting that FDA reject arsenic in animal feed:
In 2011 the FDA reported that its own study concluded that organic arsenic could transform into the toxic carcinogen inorganic arsenic, and that levels of inorganic arsenic in chicken livers were substantially higher for chickens treated with the arsenical Roxarsone than for chickens not treated with Roxarsone.
In 2012 Maryland’s governor signed H.B. 167, banning use, sale or distribution of Roxarsone or any other feed additive that contains arsenic, or histostat.
Attorneys at the Center for Food Safety represented a range of environmental, animal-welfare and public-health groups challenging FDA’s failure to act on the threat of arsenic, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Food and Water Watch, Health Care Without Harm, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility.