SALISBURY -- Since the 1970s, the poultry industry has used certain arsenic-based ingredients as chicken feed additives, but some researchers have started to scrutinize the long-standing practice because of possible health and environmental risks.
A common arsenic used by chicken companies is roxarsone, the most common arsenic-based additive used in chicken feed, is used to promote growth, kill parasites and improve pigmentation of chicken meat. In its original form, roxarsone is relatively benign. But under certain anaerobic conditions, within live chickens and on farm land, the compound is converted into more toxic forms of inorganic arsenic. Arsenic has been linked to bladder, lung, skin, kidney and colon cancer, while low-level exposures can lead to partial paralysis and diabetes, the article notes.
After consuming roxarsone, the arsenic additive approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, chickens then excrete the compound in a chemical form that is virtually unchanged.
For years, medical experts have warned that chronic human exposure to arsenic could lead to certain forms of cancer.
The National Academies, which advises the federal government on a range of health and science issues, reported to Congress in 2001 "that the data indicate arsenic causes cancer in humans at doses that are close to the drinking water concentrations that occur in the United States."
According to the researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey, one chicken excretes about 150 milligrams of roxarsone in a 42-day growth period. Litter collected during that period contains between 30 to 50 milligrams per kilogram of total arsenic, according to the report.source1,2