Web Date: June 9, 2011
Pfizer To Stop Selling Roxarsone
A Pfizer subsidiary has agreed to stop selling 3-Nitro, an arsenic containing drug fed to more than 70% of chickens in the U.S. The company is voluntarily withdrawing the product after the Food & Drug Administration found higher levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, in the livers of broiler chickens that were fed the compound compared with untreated chickens.
Also known as roxarsone, 3-Nitro has been used since the 1940s by the U.S. poultry industry to control parasitic infections, induce weight gain, and create a more appealing color in meat. The European Union banned its use in food animals in 1999.
FDA officials emphasized that the levels of inorganic arsenic, measured as arsenic (V), found in the chicken livers does not pose a health risk. The measured values varied widely from 300 to 2,900 ppb. FDA has determined the safe level of inorganic arsenic in edible chicken tissues is 2,000 ppb.
Although FDA did not test chicken meat for inorganic arsenic, the level in meat is likely to be forty times less than that found in the liver, Bernadette Dunham, director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said during a press briefing on yesterday.
Pfizer's Alpharma unit plans to continue selling 3-Nitro for 30 days to give the poultry industry time to transition to alternative drugs.
Food safety advocacy groups see the move as a step in the right direction, but they are urging FDA to remove all arsenic containing compounds from animal feed. "These include Pfizer's own feed additives containing nitarsone, as well as those containing arsanilic acid and carbarsone," says Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney with the Center for Food Safety.
"The use of arsenic in meat production is unnecessary, and, from a public health perspective, reckless," says David Wallinga, a physician with the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy. In 2005, IATP reported that nearly 75% of chicken meat from conventional producers contained inorganic arsenic ranging from 1.6 to 21.2 ppb.
The National Chicken Council, which represents producers of about 95% of the chicken sold in the U.S., largely dismissed the 2005 IATP report saying it was scientifically flawed. The council maintains that broiler chickens that have been treated with 3-Nitro are safe to eat.
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