a community newspaper serving western Albemarle County

Eating Arsenic

By Elena Day

As it’s easy to guess, I am focused on cooking and eating.  I am even better at eating than cooking. Many of us are.  I am concerned as to what I eat, especially since the factory farm system has entrenched itself in our country’s agriculture and many of the consequences thereof are unhealthy for humans and soils and water resources. The editor suggested by that a column such as I am about to attempt would be beneficial in informing the Crozet community regarding food choices.  Beginning this month, another seasonal cook also of Italian extraction, Denise Zito, will be contributing her culinary tasties to the monthly cooking column.

On January 1, 2013, the Maryland Arsenic Prohibition Law went into effect. It bans the use of arsenic in chicken feed. The European Union has banned arsenic in feed since 1999. Maryland’s law is the first ban in the U.S.

It was an uphill battle in Maryland against Pfizer, marketer of the drug Roxarsone, which is included in chicken and pig feed.  And when one recognizes that Maryland produces 300 million broilers per year, one can realize why Pfizer spent millions to fight the ban.

Arsenic, a common rat poison and also a carcinogen, is routinely fed to poultry because it speeds their growth and makes their flesh plump and pink. The latter is a result of bursting blood vessels.  Nine out of 10 broiler chickens are fed arsenic today. This has been going on since 1944. Tyson pioneered the practice of adding it to feed. Chickens raised factory-style in crowded conditions are often infested with parasites that stunt their growth, hence the “benefits” of arsenic.

Factory-farmed chickens, evidenced by analysis of their feathers, are also fed fluoroquinolones (the use of which is implicated in development of resistant MRSA and C. difficile infections in humans), an antihistamine that is the active ingredient of Benadryl,  acetaminophen, the antidepressant Prozac, and caffeine. Besides these drugs, poultry feed includes chicken carcasses, discarded offal, and chicken manure.

It is estimated 22,000 pounds of arsenic per year end up in Maryland soils as a result of spreading chicken manure on fields. One can surmise higher arsenic levels in soils in Virginia, which has its own poultry industry on the Eastern Shore, in the Tidewater generally, and in the Shenandoah Valley. A lot of arsenic ends up in the Chesapeake Bay after heavy rains.

USDA standards do not allow arsenic in organic chickens.

In our area, there are a number of organic chicken producers. It might be a good idea to seek them out. Organic chicken is more expensive. Eat less chicken and enjoy it more knowing it isn’t laced with arsenic compounds and Prozac and that the bird likely ate offal.   In the back of my mind are all those vegetarians, of which there are many in my life, who would counsel me to simply eschew the chicken!

For more information go to www.foodandwaterwatch.org.

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