photo: Sara Novak
A story reported in Grist and first published in the Salt Lake Tribune said that alarming amounts of arsenic were found in two Utah children's urine. The girl's urine tested 50 percent above what's considered safe and the boy's tested 75 percent above acceptable levels. The culprit turned out to be the chicken feed. Find out how the kids were exposed to such high levels of arsenic. Two kids, who worried officials because of excessively high levels of arsenic found in their urine, were found to be ingesting the arsenic as a result of their backyard chickens. Let's be clear that it wasn't the act of raising the backyard birds that caused the arsenic build up; it was rather, the roxarsone, a form of arsenic, found in their chicken feed. Chickens ingested the feed and their eggs were laced with the toxin.
But really, this is nothing new. A 2004 study from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy showed that more than half of the store-bought chicken and fast-food chicken contained elevated levels of arsenic. Roughly 2.2 million pounds of it are being used every year to produce 43 billion pounds of poultry. According to the Washington Post, the poultry industry has been using roxarsone to fight parasites and increase growth in chickens since it was approved by the FDA in 1944.
Organic chicken feed prohibits the use of roxarsone as an additive, so while this is currently your best bet, it's no perfect remedy because one organic brand tested still showed traces of arsenic. So the next most rational step is to blanket ban the use of roxarsone in chicken feed. The FDA is holding off because they aren't sure if the organic form of arsenic found in the chicken feed is dangerous like that of the inorganic variety. But many feed companies have voluntarily stopped using the additive to quiet consumer fear.
The Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2009, or H.R. 3624, would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to ban roxarsone.
"American consumers simply shouldn't have to ingest this arsenic compound when they sit at the kitchen table," said Rep. Israel. "There's a reason some major poultry producers have stopped using it--it can only cause environmental and health problems."
Read the bill here. In the mean time, guard against the toxin by calling feed companies and asking questions to make sure they aren't using it.
More on Arsenic:
What Evil Genius Fed Arsenic To The Chickens?
Arsenic in Chicken: Another Reason to Go Organic or Vegetarian
Low Levels Of Arsenic In Drinking Water May Suppress Human Immune Response To Influenza