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FDA Withdraws Last Remaining Arsenic-based Animal Drug

April 1st, 2015
Center for Food Safety

After 5 years of legal pressure from Center for Food Safety, meat supply is finally going arsenic-free

April 1, 2015 (Washington, DC)—Center for Food Safety today applauded the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) move to withdraw the last arsenic-based feed additive approved for use in chicken and turkey. In October 2013, in response to a lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and seven other groups, FDA called for the withdrawal of 98 out of 101 arsenic-based animal drugs. Today’s announcement of the withdrawal of nitarsone, manufactured by Zoetis, completes the task to protect public health by taking the remaining arsenicals off the market.

“The withdrawal of these harmful feed additives is a major victory for consumers and the health of our food system. It is unfortunate that it took over 5 years of intense pressure from outside groups, yet in the end, we are pleased that FDA listened to our scientific objections and is now ridding arsenic from our meat supply,” said Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety.

Arsenic in food recently made headlines when it was discovered that some wines contained elevated levels of arsenic, likely the result of environmental contamination. In the case of poultry, arsenic has been added to feed for decades—the only intentional use of the dangerous chemical in the food supply, and one that has had many experts concerned for years.

Arsenic is added to poultry feed for the purposes of inducing faster weight gain with less feed, and creating a “healthy” color in meat from chickens and turkeys. A 2006 Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy report estimated that more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens raised for meat were fed arsenic, and testing of chicken from supermarkets and fast food outlets found that much of it contained some level of arsenic. A study published in May 2013 found that arsenic-containing compounds and inorganic arsenic (a known carcinogen) are present in both raw and cooked chicken breast. 

“Risking human health for the meat industry’s bottom line is not acceptable,” said Tomaselli.  “Finally, we’re seeing some responsible action from our food safety agency.”

A 2009 petition from Center for Food Safety and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy presented abundant science to FDA that organic arsenic compounds—like those added to animal feed—are directly toxic to animals and humans. The petition also showed that that the arsenic compounds convert to cancer-causing, inorganic arsenic inside of chickens, in manure-treated soil and in humans. In 2013, CFS, IATP, and others sued to force FDA to respond to the petition and take action on arsenic.

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.

 

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