Maryland Farmers Oppose a Ban on Arsenicals

MARYLAND, US - State legislators are supporting a ban on arsenic in poultry feeds in the state but the industry is opposing a ban.
calendar icon 17 March 2010
clock icon 4 minute read

The state attorney general and some legislators in both houses in Maryland are backing a ban on arsenic in chicken feed, a move they say will help poultry farmers and the environment, reports Daily Record. Industry representatives say the measure would disadvantage Maryland farmers and result in more sick chickens.

Bills filed in the House and Senate would ban the use, sale and distribution of any commercial poultry feed with additives that contain arsenic. The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee heard testimony on its version of the bill yesterday (16 March).

Attorney General Douglas Gansler told the committee: "Most people are unaware that arsenic is in their chicken and in their chicken feed."

In June 2009, he wrote an opinion column in the Washington Post arguing the Food and Drug Administration should ban arsenic from chicken feed. At the recent meeting, he said a ban in Maryland would benefit the poultry industry and the environment.

"Nobody wants arsenic on their farms," he said.

Numerous poultry industry representatives disagreed.

Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., a trade organization for the poultry industry on the Delmarva peninsula explained that roxarsone is a widely used feed additive that contains arsenic, a tool to improve bird health and welfare.

The additive is used to prevent an intestinal ailment that weakens a chicken's gut and causes nutrients to pass through the bird without being absorbed. Coccidiosis is probably the most costly chicken disease in the US, Mr Satterfield said.

Banning the use of roxarsone would put Maryland chicken growers and feed producers at an economic disadvantage, and result in more sick and dead birds, he added.

Elizabeth Krushinskie, a veterinarian who serves as director of quality assurance and food safety at Mountaire Farms in Delaware, called roxarsone an "essential and critical tool".

Not all poultry farmers use roxarsone, according to Daily Record. Perdue stopped using additives that contain arsenic about three years ago, said spokesman, Luis Luna.

The Salisbury-based company chooses not to use the additive because it has "worked hard to have an approach to bird health that works without the use of arsenic. That's good animal husbandry and best management practices that produced that result," Mr Luna said.

However, Perdue does not support the bill, he said.

Mr Luna explained: "The science doesn't support a ban right now. It isn't clear. If people believe it's a safety issue, then they can take it up with the FDA. Right now, it's about emotion and sloganeering, which creates confusion, and not about a review of the science, which is what we trust the FDA to do."

Senator Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, asked Dr Krushinskie how she could call the additive 'essential' if some farms do not use it. The senator is the sponsor of the bill.

Dr Krushinskie said the additive is "essential from a bird-health perspective". She added: "It's inhumane to withhold effective … treatment from sick animals."

Attorney General Gansler and Senator Pinsky said the arsenic passes through the chicken and comes out in manure, which is used as fertiliser and could pollute the soil and the Chesapeake Bay. Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment but it has been linked to cancer and other negative health effects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, according to Daily Record.

Merry Eisner, a representative for the Maryland PTA, asked senators to support the ban. She said: "Children love to eat chicken – and dirt. Parents want it to be clean chicken and clean dirt."

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