Move to Ban Roxarsone in US

US - In the run-up to Thanksgiving, a politician has introduced a bill to ban the use of roxarsone in poultry feeds, on the grounds that its arsenic content could harm human health.
calendar icon 25 November 2009
clock icon 4 minute read

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, US Representative Steve Israel (D-New York) would like to remind you that the turkey defrosting in your fridge might be poisonous, according to Los Angeles Times.

The article explains that turkey may contain roxarsone, a food additive that poultry producers use to fight off parasites and help young chicks grow. But it is a derivative of arsenic, which is not necessarily the healthiest thing to eat.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns: "Ingesting very high levels of arsenic can result in death. Exposure to lower levels can cause nausea and vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels, and a sensation of 'pins and needles' in hands and feet."

The US Food and Drug Administration has declared that consumption of arsenic is safe at levels up to 0.5 parts per million in poultry muscle, and that roxarsone is OK to use. But Mr Israel is not convinced. And so he has introduced a bill: the Poison Free Poultry Act of 2009 (H.R.3624).

On 23 November, he held a news conference in his Long Island district to emphasise the gravity of the situation. According to a report in Newsday, he pointed to a bird and said: "There is no good reason to be injecting poison into this turkey."

Los Angeles Times reports that Mr Israel noted that the FDA's safety threshold was set more than 30 years ago, and is in dire need of updating in light of medical research linking arsenic to such health problems as cancer and diabetes.

He has the support of Keeve Nachman, science director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

In a statement published on the Center's blog, he writes: "Studies have shown that some of the arsenic fed to chickens remains in the edible portions of the birds. Arsenic has also been found in poultry waste, where it poses environmental and human health risks when the waste is managed, often by spreading on agricultural fields as fertiliser for food crops."

The Center has endorsed Israel's bill, along with the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Humane Society of the United States, The Clean Water Network, Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, Food & Water Watch, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Waterkeeper Alliance, Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water, the Organic Consumers Assocaition, Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Ohio Environmental Council, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Food Safety, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of Family Farmers, according to Mr Israel's web site.

Los Angeles Times reports that so far, the bill has no co-sponsors in Congress, and it is stuck in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. It is unclear when – or if – it could become law, so in the meantime Nachman advises consumers to consider organic turkeys, which are roxarsone-free.

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