The FDA has been acting like a teenager caught with a pack of cigarettes: denial and skirting the issue, finally admitting to the offense, and trying to rationalize why it’s not so bad after all. The Associated Press reported on the long-awaited statement from the FDA confirming that inorganic arsenic, the most toxic form of the chemical, was found to be absorbed in the nearly half of chickens tested.
How did it get there? It’s purposefully fed to them.
Roxarsone (“3-Nitro”) is the arsenic-containing drug added to chicken feed for the purpose of fattening them up and giving their meat a “desirable” pink hue. Faster weight gain on less feed also means “desirable” cost cuts for producers. These money-saving measures seem to have caught up with factory farmers.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the FDA’s findings:
“The agency said it recently conducted a study of 100 broiler chickens that detected inorganic arsenic at higher levels in the livers of chickens treated with 3-Nitro compared with untreated chickens… Pfizer said the sale of 3-Nitro would be stopped by early July in order to allow animal producers to transition to other treatments.”
The biggest head-scratcher is how the FDA claims how the levels of arsenic in chickens are so low that their meat is still safe to consume. This is the same FDA who reported arsenic to be a carcinogen – meaning it is decidedly not safe to consume. Thankfully, the public is intelligent enough to call a spade a spade.
Pfizer announced that it would withdraw Roxarsone from the market starting next month. The FDA didn’t order Pfizer to withdraw the drug — the company did so voluntarily.
Of course, this does not solve the problem of arsenic in chicken. As Michael Hansen of Consumers Union stated in a press release, “There are several other arsenic-containing drugs for animals that are on the market, and those should also be withdrawn or banned, as they have been in the European Union.”
As Food & Water Watch reported in March, “between 2000 and 2008, the USDA tested only 1 out of every 12 million domestically produced chickens.” So it’s not as if the government is tracking this problem in any systematic way.
The industry is so willing to risk consumer panic over this issue and wait for the media or government officials to force its hand. Instead of making smart business decisions and ending dangerous practices that might give consumers cause to avoid their product, they instead try to hold back the tide. One drug gets withdrawn while others remain. The FDA tests 100 chickens (as they did in this latest test), while 8 billion are produced and sold every year.
It’s no wonder that the so-called “ag-gag” bills remain popular among industrial farmers and their political following. They can’t seem to let go of consumer ignorance as a key business strategy. With arsenic in chicken, the FDA, the USDA, and the chicken industry seem to care far more about the perception of having acted rather than the reality of ensuring all chicken sold in the U.S. is free from this toxic substance.