Maryland - First State to Ban Chicken Feed Containing Arsenic

Governor Martin O'Malley is poised to sign into law the nation's first ban on chicken feed containing trace amounts of arsenic. The legislation would prohibit the use of roxarsone, a drug used to promote growth and combat parasites, from being given to poultry. Proponents of the legislation hailed its passage as a way to improve public health and to help potentially remove arsenic from seeping into the Chesapeake Bay. Those opposed, including the state's poultry industry, say the legislation is unnecessary as the drug's manufacturer -Pfizer- stopped production a year ago and that a full ban could have significant economic consequences for Maryland farmers. 

Although arsenic is naturally occurring in the environment, it is a known carcinogen and it has been linked as a contributing factor to heart disease and diabetes. Last year, the FDA conducted study on the drug roxarsone and found that the feed-additive caused trace amounts of inorganic arsenic to occur in chicken livers. After learning the findings by the FDA, Pfizer agreed to suspend the sale of roxarsone and other companies like Perdue Farms stopped using the additive nearly five years ago. Farmers on Maryland's eastern shore have been using stockpiled feed since production ceased last year, feeding millions of chickens according to food safety and environmental groups. They contend that the chickens are unwholesome to eat and that they generate up to 1 billion pounds of manure that is treated and used as fertilizer, which can put up to 30,000 pounds of arsenic into the environment per year.

The poultry industry in Maryland is worried that adding the new regulation is both unnecessary and could be detrimental for growers, which make up 40 percent of the state's agriculture economy. According to data provided by the US Department of Agriculture, Maryland raises nearly 300 million broilers (chicken raised for meet consumption) per year -making it the 10th largest poultry producer in the country. Poultry growers point out that roxarsone is regulated by the FDA and that any ban should be based on federal food safety standards, and thus far the drug has not lost its approval. Further, they contend that trace amounts of arsenic are not harmful for human consumption and that critics are using scare tactics that could put growers at a competitive disadvantage by driving up feed and operational costs.

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