Thursday, January 22, 2015

Arsenic, Antibiotics, Hormones: What Is Really In My Chicken?


The headline "70% of chicken sold in the US contains cancer causing arsenic" would freak out any person .  Most of us know that conventional chicken is exposed to antibiotics and other stuff, but arsenic?  The carcinogen arsenic??

A couple of days ago, when this headline was posted on MSN that was going around in Facebook, a couple of friends asked me about it.  I had heard about this about 2 years ago but decided to look into it to see if anything new had been released.   

THE HEADLINE
70% of chicken sold in the US contains cancer causing arsenic.

This was the conclusion of a study that was conducted in 2010-2011 by Johns Hopkins University.  They studied conventional, USDA organic and antibiotic free chicken samples.   Levels of inorganic arsenic (the cancer causing type of arsenic)  were found to be four times higher in conventional chicken than in USDA Organic chicken.  

The reason?  A drug called roxarsone that contains arsenic.  Actually, 4 FDA approved arsenic-based animal drugs were in use for decades in animal feed of chickens, turkeys and pigs.  The rational for approving these drugs was that the organic arsenic (which is not considered a carcinogen like inorganic arsenic) would stayed in its organic form from the time the animal ingested it to the moment it was excreted - thus not creating any danger for human beings eating the poultry

The Johns Hopkins study of 2010/2011 found that this was not true.  In fact, inorganic, cancer causing, arsenic was found in the meat of 70% of chickens.  The study also found that when the chicken treated with this drug were heated/cooked the levels of inorganic (carcinogenic) arsenic increased.

THE GOOD NEWS?
Prior to the Johns Hopkins study, an FDA investigation had found inorganic arsenic in the liver of treated chickens and upon informing the drug manufacturer of their findings, Pfizer, the company that manufactured the arsenic containing drugs, decided to “voluntarily remove roxarsone (the arsenic containing drug) from the (US) market”.  In fact, 3 out of 4 arsenic containing drugs are no longer in use, in the US, in poultry feed. 

THE BAD NEWS?
  • Roxarsone, the arsenic containing drug used in the chickens studied by Johns Hopkins, is still being used overseas.
  • There is also still one arsenic containing drug being used in the US.  Pfizer still domestically uses the arsenic drug nitarsone which, according to Johns Hopkins, is chemically similar to roxarsone.
  • Currently, no federal laws prohibit the sale or use of arsenic based drugs for poultry.  (In January 2013, Maryland became the first U.S. state to ban the use of most arsenicals in chicken feed.)



TAKEAWAY
The reality is that conventional chicken is, arguably, not the best protein source for your family.  

According to Consumer Reports, 80% of all antiobiotics sold in the US are not used on people but on livestock; to make them grow faster or to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions (hormones are actually banned from being used on poultry in the US).   So it is not all that surprising that  arsenic was approved to promote growth, plumping up the chicken and giving their skin a plumper pinkish color too.     

The bottom line is that conventional chickens are treated/fed/exposed to a coctail of pesticides and drugs that become incorporated into their very tissue and are passed on to you and your family when you eat them.


WHAT CAN I DO?
Chicken can still be a very healthy part of a balanced diet.... you just have to choose the right kind of chicken.   

The main recommendation is to buy organic chicken.  Especially for young children. USDA organic chicken cannot be treated with any antibiotics.  Not only is organic chicken cleaner, but they also have more omega-3 fatty acids in the breast meat.  

When organic chicken is not available, or is too expensive, choose chicken labelled  “raised without antibiotics”.   Just about every major food retailer sells chicken raised without free and/or organic chicken so it is widely available.  Whole Foods ONLY sells these two types of chicken.  


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