If you eat chicken raised commercially in the United States, you are most likely consuming arsenic.
A study by Environmental Health Perspectives has found that a growth-promoting drug called roxarsone, which also treats parasites in the birds’ intestines and gives the meat a pink color, accumulates in the breast meat of broiler chickens. Roxarsone, manufactured by Pfizer, is an organic form of arsenic. Its use was approved by the FDA even though arsenic is a known carcinogen.
After a study by the Food and Drug Administration found elevated levels of inorganic arsenic (iAs) in the livers of roxarsone-treated chicken in 2011, Pfizer voluntarily pulled the drug off the U.S. market. But the FDA has not acted to ban it, and it is still sold overseas. The study was conducted prior to Pfizer’s removing the drug, but the results have just been released.
After roxarsone was pulled by Pfizer, chicken producers replaced it with nitarsone, another organic arsenic, indicating the results of the study are still relevant.
The study’s authors analyzed chicken breast meat samples from three categories: 1) conventional chickens for which arsenical drug use was permitted (69 samples); 2) conventional antibiotic-free chickens for which arsenical drug use was unlikely but possible since arsenical drugs are not considered antibiotics (34 samples); and 3) chickens certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which are not fed roxarsone and other arsenical feed additives (37 samples). The samples came from 82 stores in 10 U.S. metropolitan areas. Some of the samples underwent arsenic speciation, and for a subset of these the authors compared paired cooked and raw samples.
According to the study, cooked conventional chicken meat contained the highest amount of iAs. Cooked organic chicken meat had the lowest. Organic chicken most likely ingested arsenic through the water supply, the study’s authors suggested.
A risk analysis performed by the study’s authors estimated that, based on the amount of chicken consumed over the average 70-year lifespan, there will be approximately 124 more cancers per year in the U.S. if arsenic-related drugs aren’t pulled from the market.
If you consume chicken, it is best to find locally raised, free-range organic chicken rather than that mass-produced by the large chicken producers.