Arsenic in Chicken Feed Affects More Than Chickens

This is one of those news items that makes you realize just how complicated our food system’s problems are. The state of Maryland has passed a bill that bans arsenic in chicken feed. The bill is waiting on the governor’s signature.

That sounds good, and it is good, but it has to make you think: why is a ban necessary? Why is there arsenic in chicken feed in the first place? And what are the consequences of it? Here’s why.
Somewhere in the 1940s, roxarsone, an arsenic-based drug used to fight parasites in animals, was introduced into chicken feed. Last year, a study done on 100 chickens found that half of them “showed trace amounts of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, in their livers.”
That inorganic arsenic ends up in the meat from conventionally raised chickens and in the soil. Pfizer stopped selling roxarsone after the results of the study were released, but chicken farmers in Maryland who had stockpiles of the feed with roxarsone continued to use it.
The chickens in Maryland produce about a billion pounds of waste a year, and that waste gets used as fertilizer. Since the 1940s, this inorganic arsenic in the fertilizer has seeped into the ground and washed into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
Since Maryland is the first state to pass such a ban, it can only be presumed that this problem exists with the chicken feed, the chicken meat, and the fertilizer from chicken waste in all other states, too.
Last year, when a “Dr. Oz Show” investigation uncovered levels of arsenic in apple juice, everyone wondered where the arsenic was coming from. There is some naturally occurring arsenic in apples, and it was difficult to determine where the arsenic originated.
When I learn that since the 1940s, it’s possible that arsenic has been seeping into the ground through chicken waste fertilizer, it occurs to me that the problems with our food system are complicated. Could one of the reasons for the arsenic in the apples be the arsenic that was added to chicken feed?
I don’t have the answer to that, but I do have a deeper understanding that we are probably only just beginning to see how choices that were made in the last century concerning our food supply have affected our current food supplies in ways that weren’t imagined. It also reaffirms my decision to avoid conventional meat when possible.
It’s good that Maryland is taking this stance. Let’s hope other states follow its lead.

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