Tag: arsenic

Maryland is First State to Ban Arsenic in Chicken Feed

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This feels appropriate, considering the recent research about all the creepy chemicals our chickens are eating:  Maryland is just about to become the first state in the U.S. to ban arsenic in chicken feed.

You may be wondering why anyone would feed a chicken arsenic in the first place. (Unless, say, the chicken was in an Agatha Christie novel, and had just come into a large inheritance.) But while arsenic is certainly a poison — and has been shown to contribute to diabetes and heart disease — it’s also used to fight parasites in animals.  The arsenic-containing drug roxarsone, manufactured by Pfizer, also promotes blood vessel growth, which can make meat appear pinker and plumper. Purdue and McDonald’s both refuse to feed it to their chickens. Canada and the European Union prohibit it as well.

This Week in Research: Arsenic in Your Chicken; How Schizophrenia Happens

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It’s not so often that the research we talk about in this column becomes big news. We tend to look at the small-but-crucial experiments that expand our understanding of tiny crystals, or early primates, or something else that doesn’t have that much relevance to our daily lives. But this one is different. Everyone is talking about the arsenic in our chicken.

The study itself was brilliantly simple. Researchers from Johns Hopkins’s Center for a Livable Future and Arizona State tested for drug residue in feather meal, which — sorry, this is gross — is a byproduct of poultry production that’s also added to feed for other animals. In other words, the feathers stripped off the chickens get ground up with some other stuff and fed back to the chickens (or the fish, or the cattle, or whatever). This is a pretty common practice and not a big deal in itself. What the researchers were doing in this case was analyzing that feather meal to determine what drugs the poultry may have received before slaughter. And what they found was alarming:  caffeine, banned antibiotics, arsenic, and the active ingredient in Prozac. “We were kind of floored,” said Johns Hopkins scientist Keeve E. Nachman, a co-author of the study.  “It’s unbelievable what we found.”

The antibiotics in question (fluoroquinolones) were banned by the FDA in 2005 because of fears that their excessive use was making the bacteria become resistant. (In 2009, 80 percent of all antibiotic sales in the U.S. — humans included! — went to the poultry and livestock industries, which use them primarily to speed up the growth of animals, rather than for treating disease.) The study’s authors urged the FDA to step up its regulation of the poultry and livestock industries. “By looking into feather meal, and uncovering a drug banned nearly 6 years ago, we have very little confidence that the food animal production industry can be left to regulate itself,” said Nachman.

Mmmm…Arsenic-y!

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Okay, so lawmakers in Annapolis are having it out over whether we should introduce a statewide ban on arsenic in chicken and turkey feed.

You’ll excuse me if I think this one is a no-brainer. Especially when not only have “low levels of arsenic” been found in the livers of broiler chickens, but the stuff we’ve been feeding poultry to kill parasites and boost growth has apparently been “adding 30,000 pounds of arsenic to Maryland’s soil every year for decades.”

Of course the argument for continuing to feed our poultry poison (in really small amounts, we swear) is essentially an economic one: the FDA may very well approve the arsenic-containing drug Roxsarone for use nationally, which would put Maryland poultry farms at a disadvantage if it were banned in the state.

I don’t know about you, but if I were shopping for chickens in the grocery store and one of them was marked “ARSENIC-FREE,” that’s the one I would buy. And I’d certainly be willing to pay some kind of premium for it.

Really, the whole but-if-we-don’t-feed-our-chickens-poison-how-will-we-remain-competitive? argument reminds of that old Jack Benny joke, the one where the mugger says, “Look, Bud. I said your money or your life!” and Jack Benny says, “I’m thinking it over!”

The only reason it’s funny is that anyone would rather protect his life (and, so we would hope, the lives of others) than his money, right? I mean, right?

Goucher Helps out with Jane Austen Arsenic Mystery

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Jane Austen has been dead for nearly two centuries, but she’s still making news.  You may have seen the alleged portrait of the English author that surfaced last week, but British crime novelist Lindsay Ashford doesn’t care much about what Austen looks like. Instead, she wants to figure out how Austen died. And in true crime novelist fashion, she thinks it might have been arsenic.

After combing Austen’s letters for clues, Ashford claims to have come up with evidence to support the arsenic claim. And although it would make a better story, Ashford isn’t claiming that the alleged arsenic poison came from an Austen enemy; instead, she points out that many medications of the time included arsenic. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds, either — early Austen collectors Alberta and Henry Burke were said to have tested her for arsenic poisoning.

That’s where Goucher comes in:  after the Burke’s deaths, they donated their collection to Goucher College. When Ashford asked Goucher librarians to find evidence of the rumored arsenic test, none turned up. Luckily, some of Austen’s hair has been preserved at the Jane Austen house Museum in England. Ashford wants it tested to find out for sure whether it was arsenic that did her in (most other experts blame Addison’s disease). What do you think, readers? Does it matter what malady killed off Austen?

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