The arsenic in chicken feed has to go somewhere. Whileorganic arsenic (the form found in chicken feed) breaksdown into inorganic arsenic, it does not break down fur-ther and remains in the environment. Nearly 90 percent of the arsenic fed to chicken is excreted through urine and fe-ces.
Studies estimate that approximately 2 million poundsof roxarsone are fed to chicken each year,
contaminatingmuch of the estimated 26 to 51 billion pounds of wasteproduced by broiler chickens.
Approximately 90 percentof chicken litter is applied to cropland as fertilizer,
recent scientic research has found that organic arsenic in
chicken litter converts to the much more toxic inorganicarsenic in as little as a week.
Elevated levels of arsenic have been found in elds fertil
-ized with poultry litter,
and crops grown in soil contamit-nated with arsenic can absorb arsenic.
Both organic andinorganic arsenic can also leach into ground and surfacewaters.
Scientists estimate that between 70 and 90 per-cent of arsenic in poultry becomes water-soluble, creating
signicant contamination risk for water sources.
Severalscientists have raised concerns that arsenic from poultry lit-ter poses a long-term threat to ground and surface water.
In areas where poultry production is concentrated, asmuch as half of the litter is surplus, meaning there is toomuch of it to apply to local cropland.
Alternative usesof poultry litter include burning it as a biofuel, which canrelease arsenic into the air, or turning it into commercialfertilizer pellets, which still contain arsenic.
Arsenic and the Eastern Shore
Poultry and eggs are major players in the economy of theDelmarva Peninsula. According to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, poultry and eggs make up nearly 70 percentof Delmarva’s total agricultural sales.
According to thepoultry industry, there areapproximately 1,700 chickenoperations growing nearly 11 million chickens per weekon the Delmarva Peninsula.
On the Delmarva Peninsula, poultry operations producemore waste than a city of 4 million people.
By com-parison, the population of the entire state of Maryland isapproximately 6 million people.
Manure produced on theDelmarva Peninsula far exceeds the local need to fertilizecrops, by two or three times as much in some areas, posingserious potential for excess nutrient runoff into the Chesa-peake Bay.
Researchers estimate that between 20 and 50
metric tons of roxarsone is applied to Delmarva elds each
year via poultry waste.
An analysis of Delmarva tap water found higher levels of
arsenic in areas where chicken litter is spread on elds
than where it is not.
Groundwater tests throughoutMaryland’s coastal plains found arsenic in some domestic
wells using two specic aquifers. Concentrations reached
up to 13 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) tolerance limit. In general, arsenic concentrationswere higher on the Eastern Shore than in Southern Mary-land. While scientists blame much of the contaminationon naturally occurring arsenic, “the possibility of surfacecontamination cannot be ruled out.”
Either way, Mary-land residents do not need further arsenic exposure fromthe chicken they eat or the environment.
The FDA, USDA and EPA all share responsibility for moni-toring and regulating toxic contaminants in our food andenvironment. Unfortunately, in the case of arsenic, theyalso share the blame for failing to rein in this unnecessarypublic health threat.
The FDA evaluates drugs for safety and effectiveness.Roxarsone received its initial approval in 1944, and overa hundred of roxarsone-based “combination drugs” havebeen approved since.
In response to new regulations, the
FDA afrmed its nding that roxarsone has no signicantenvironmental impact in 1981.
In response to publicity regarding new studies on arsenicin 2007, an FDA spokesperson stated that it “has no datato suggest that there have been any adverse health effectsin humans because of roxarsone in chicken feed.”
TheFDA has not re-evaluated the tolerance levels for arsenic inmeat in light of new studies.