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Dr. Oz, apple juice, and arsenic: chicken may have 10 times more

September 19, 2011 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 56 Comments

Dr. Oz is right to be concerned about arsenic contamination in our food supply. According to scientists from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the Environmental Protection Agency, “Arsenic is a human carcinogen, and is also associated with increased risks of several noncancer endpoints, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neuropathy, and neurocognitive deficits in children.”

Last week The Dr. Oz Show released independent lab reports finding as much as 36 ppb of arsenic in apple juice. USDA researchers, however, have estimated that chicken may harbor as much as 430 ppb. And since Americans consume three times more chicken than apple juice, chicken may represent 30 times the arsenic risk of apple juice. Based on FDA retesting of apple juice samples, though, compared to the amount of arsenic found in a Perdue chicken breast, for example, arsenic exposure from chicken may be only 15 times as great.

The arsenic in apple juice is thought to come from arsenic-containing pesticides still in use in countries such as China, but how did arsenic get into the chicken?

The poultry industry fed it to them.

Every year about two million pounds of arsenic-containing chemicals have been fed to chickens in the United States. Why would the industry do such a thing? When tens of thousands of birds are crammed into filthy, football field-sized sheds to lie beak-to-beak in their own waste they can become so heavily infested with internal parasites that adding arsenic to the feed to poison the bugs can result in a dramatic increase in growth rates. Also, arsenic can give the carcass a pinkish tinge, which consumers prefer.

Though arsenic-based feed additives have been banned in Europe for over a decade, they continue to be legal in the United States. One drug company did announce this summer, though, that it has suspended sales to poultry companies after the FDA found concerning levels of a particularly toxic form of arsenic in edible tissues of chickens given feed laced with the arsenic-containing drug.

Based on the USDA estimates of arsenic levels in the U.S. chicken supply, the prestigious Medical Letter on the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration concluded, “Chicken consumption may contribute significant amounts of arsenic to total arsenic exposure of the U.S. population….Levels of arsenic in chicken are so high that other sources may have to be monitored carefully to prevent undue toxic exposure among the population.”

For more, see my video Arsenic in Chicken.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

Image credit: jessicareeder / Flickr

Read the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s report Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat

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Dr. Michael Greger

About Michael Greger M.D.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

View all videos by Michael Greger M.D.

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  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Though arsenic is also found in certain plant foods (such as rice or wine made from pesticide-laden grapes), according to the CDC, “meat, fish, and poultry account for 80% of dietary arsenic intake.” Please leave any questions you may have about arsenic in our diet below and please feel free to check out my videos on 1,000+ other topics.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/CarolDoyel/ Carol Doyel

      Would love to share this post on our Nutrition page with your permission, we would add your credits and link to nutritionfacts.org.

      Look forward to hearing back from you-
      carol

    • Roboman

      So why is the FDA allowing this stuff to be placed in our foods? Arsenic, like other things, can build up in the human system.

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  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/KristenAcuna/ Kristen Acuna

    Does “organic” chicken fare any better? Thank you for this invaluable information!

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Great question Kristen! In a survey of arsenic levels in U.S. chicken, while nearly three-quarters of the breasts, thighs and livers from conventional producers carried detectable levels of arsenic, of certified organic or other “premium” chicken parts or whole chickens, just one-third had detectable arsenic. This suggests consumers who continue to eat chicken can lower their arsenic intake by choosing organic. Unfortunately, arsenic-laced chicken manure can still be used to grow organic produce.

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  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/ShivaSteveOrdog/ Shiva Steve Ordog

    Makes me happy to be on the green smoothie fast and sad for my fellow human beings who are eating these chickens. There has been some talk of a voluntary end to this practice of using these arsenic compounds in chickens but it is surprising that there is not swift action to ban them. We don’t need our people to have a greater toxic load!
    Shiva Steve Ordog

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      I agree. The poultry industry defends the practice by arguing arsenic is a “naturally occurring element.” (So is uranium, but that doesn’t make it something we want to feed our family.) Furthermore, the industry argues, arsenic is everywhere: “It is in the soil that grows our crops, the water we drink, and the air that surrounds us, so it is normal to find low levels of naturally occurring arsenic in many food products.” As a public health professional, I’m reminded of another industry that opted for a profitable poison to feather its nest. Leaded gasoline became an international public health disaster, but the manufacturers of the fuel additive made a similar argument: “During the entire history of man on this earth he has had lead in his body. He has had lead in his food, he has had lead in his drinking water….” This is not a convincing argument to further expose the public to toxins, as you say. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment. Please check out the other 1,000+ topics I cover in my videos on NutritionFacts.org.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/MattBaker/ Matt Baker

    The next Bond villain is going to tie up Bond and make him eat chicken and apples.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/TinaDyck/ Tina Dyck

    Chicken feed is changed at the farm level. That means the small family farm chicken wouldn’t have as much toxins. Arsenic is fed to chickens as it increases appitite and turns the meat pinker.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/MaryTurner/ Mary Turner

    http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm271595.htm
    I wouldn’t trust Dr. Oz’s results on arsenic.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      A legitimate criticism of Dr. Oz’s testing is that it didn’t differentiate between the more toxic inorganic form of arsenic and the less toxic organic variety. Unfortunately in chicken, the majority (an estimated 65%) appears to be the highly toxic inorganic form typically found in insecticides and weed-killers. This is another reason why chicken consumption is more concerning than apple juice.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/LachicaveganaComefrutas/ Lachicavegana Comefrutas

        Very True. I remember in Brenda Davis’s book Becoming Raw she makes a clear distinction between the two and ends up saying not to eat hijiki, at all.
        It’s kind of Bogus that he doesn’t mention it al all.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/JohnHerd/ John Herd

    So what is the standard measurable arsenic levels in an entire apple. Seeds included.

    And what is the standard measurable arsenic levels in an organic chicken.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      We don’t think the arsenic is coming from the apple itself, but from arsenic-containing pesticides still legal in countries we import apple juice from (such as China). So the arsenic in apple juice is incidental contamination, whereas the arsenic found in chicken is a result of the intentional feeding of arsenic-containing drugs to chickens to picken their flesh and boost their growth. Other feed additives can lead to harmful drug residues, mad cow disease (even potentially mad fish disease), and antibiotic resistant “superbugs.”

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/YamniaRodriguez/ Yamnia Rodriguez

    What about organic apples??

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Organic apples would not be expected to have arsenic (since we think it comes from the pesticides), but then again I would not have expected so many samples of organic chicken to be contaminated with the toxin. The best we can do to decrease our exposure to industrial pollutants is eat low on the food chain.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/JaneSooby/ Jane Sooby

        The IATP study looked at only 3 types of organic chicken. This is a very small sample size from which to draw conclusions. While it is upsetting that there was any arsenic detected, the fact that 2/3 consistently had no arsenic indicates that the organic ban on arsenic in feed is working to protect consumers. Someone should follow up with the brand that did have detectable levels of arsenic and find out why.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/JoeSollitto/ Joe Sollitto

    Scary indeed – but as far as comparing chicken and apples, would cooking the chicken (in any of the various ways that we cook chicken) mitigate the level of arsenic that actually arrives at the dinner table? I know that arsenic is a element and not a compound…

    I have been told that strawberries are another “must buy organic” fruit…

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/JoyaChristina/ Joya Christina

    Is there anyway to remove arsenic from our bodies since even if we have stopped consuming we still need to rid our bodies of the toxins.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Good question Joya! About 80% of the arsenic we ingest is excreted immediately in the urine, so the most important thing we can do is reduce our consumption to prevent further buildup (mostly in our skin and bones). Because daily intake is such an accurate predictor of blood levels, arsenic can actually be used as a biomarker for fish consumption. but rapidly declines as soon as we stop putting it into our systems. Unfortunately, other toxic industrial pollutants are more persistent and can take decades to eliminate from one’s body.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/MichelleLloyd/ Michelle Lloyd

    What is the difference between inorganic and organic arsenic? During the testing done above, which type of arsenic was tested?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Although in setting water safety standards the EPA doesn’t differentiate between the two, and the general assumption that organic arsenic is less toxic than inorganic arsenic is based on an extremely limited database, inorganic arsenic is considered to be more toxic. The Dr. Oz Show just measured total arsenic levels, whereas both types have been measured in chicken. Although the drug that they feed to chickens contains an organic form of arsenic, bacteria common in the guts of chickens have been shown to convert the drug into highly toxic inorganic forms. Because the different forms can convert into one another, the best type of arsenic in one’s meat may be no arsenic at all.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/SteveYamaguma/ Steve Yamaguma

    How does beef or pork compare to chicken in terms of arsenic levels?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      I love all these great questions! I hope you’ll check out some of the other hundreds of videos on the site. From an arsenic point of view, pork appears 4 times less risky than chicken and beef is probably the safest meat even though an estimated million tons of poultry “litter” (nice word for you-know-what) is fed to cattle every year. See the Filthy Feed campaign if you want to destroy what’s left of your appetite.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/denisetm3/ denisetm3

    I cook chicken for my family at least 3-4 times weekly. My twin boys, now 11, were born prematurely and i also have an 8 yr old son…n me n my husband. My son, chris, 11, has some significant learning troubles…speech development…he speaks well..but not clearly sometimes-and is beginning to slightly stutter in the beginning of a sentence or while telling a story. Can arsenic have any influence on my children’s drvelopment? This really frightens me…IM assuming it would be wise to stop eating chicken n switch to pork and beef-which we eat on the days were not eating chicken. Im also gonna try to cut meat out of some meals n use other healthy substitutes. Any advice on this issue? Desperate for answers! Thanks!!!

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/LachicaveganaComefrutas/ Lachicavegana Comefrutas

      Advice. Follow Bill Clinton’s new diet. Cut out all meat & all dairy.
      Eat Plants. Try to eat organic plants.
      If you are going to eat chicken, get a good job so you can pay top dollar for a very high quality organic meat. But organic meat still causes heart disease.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      I’m so glad you wrote in. I’m sorry Chris is having problems. Arsenic exposure has been associated with a wide range of learning disabilities but the good news is that the problem appears to be current, not necessarily chronic exposure. A study performed by researchers at the University of California School of Public Health found that current urine levels of arsenic in children 5 to 15 years of age were associated with significant problems with intellectual functioning, but did not find an association with earlier exposure as an infant or maternal exposure during pregnancy. Since urine levels of arsenic reflect day-to-day current exposure this suggests that such problems might be mitigated by cutting down on arsenic exposure (including foods such as chicken and the seaweed hijiki). So I would encourage you to switch to lower-arsenic meats such as beef or move to healthier substitutes as you mentioned. Have you tried the “Gardein” chicken fillets? My family started using them after we saw them on Oprah and never looked back.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/KatieBerry/ Katie Berry

      Foster Farms brand chicken! They do not feed their chickens arsenic. Better yet if you can afford it is organic pastured chickens not fed commercial feed.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/AmberMarkowski/ Amber Markowski

    Disturbing….

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/LanceStrish/ Lance Strish

    Should we cook our vegetables to destroy arsenic in pesticides? I have been drinking broccoli smoothies with lemon and I don’t get hungry. http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/05/food-reward-dominant-factor-in-obesity.html

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      That’s a good question, Lance. One would not expect much (if any!) arsenic in vegetables (unless grown in soil around a mine, pesticide, or wood preservation factory), so it’s not something I’d worry about, but to answer your question there was a study on two vegetables (green beans and potatoes) that found that boiling reduced arsenic concentrations (presumably by leaching the element into the cooking water–it can’t really be “destroyed” per se). The same study, though, found that cooking (roasting and frying) could actually increase the concentration in chicken (though only a little bit).

      My question back to you, though–broccoli smoothies?! No offense, but that sounds really nasty. How do you make them palatable? I’ve experimented with green smoothies and have been able to find some ways to tolerate some of the more mild greens, but I’m thinking broccoli would be so overpowering as to be undrinkable. Care to share your secret by posting your recipe? If I could get my family to drink broccoli that would be a coup!

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/LanceStrish/ Lance Strish

        *1 Broccoli Crown (do not buy walmart brand ever or it will taste like pesticides you can tell with an astringent cauliflower/theater-popcorn like taste)
        *1/2 lemon. Cut into 2 quarter lemons, then cutting peel off
        *1 Blendtec for 40sec (whole juice setting)
        *1 Glass straw (google ’12mm glass straw’ and it has a kink in it my brand is glassdharma)
        *Ice cubes to the brim of cup and pour (you can drink straight out of the blendtec jar filled with ice-afterwards with your new kinked straw)

        The large glass straw is the secret to making it palatable (and bypassing the front of the mouth, and eliminating mouthfeel) and the lemon is the secret to having a great backend taste (like lemonade with the ice). Drinking it is a great feeling if you don’t get enough sleep.

        And replacing with kale for the broccoli in that recipe is just as good (simplicity is key to making many of these each day effortlessly). I have also managed to drink mustard greens (usually taste like pepperspray) -blended with blueberries- replacing the broccoli in the above recipe for mustard (brassinosteroids hopefully effective as anti-catabolic pre/post workout energy drink for my weight lifting).

        I am also able to blend for 20seconds: 1-2 tbsp of tomato paste, with 1/8 red onion and 2-3 garlic cloves with water, w/o ice and drink in seconds with this straw (after a meal containing fat source). The straw makes eating vegetables as easy (thus more frequent, and great bookend w/ each meal) and fast as literally breathing (due to the 12mm diameter/girth).

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/GeoffreyBove/ Geoffrey Bove

    Last last time I checked, a few years ago, the thresholds for arsenic causing cancer, and the duration of exposure necessary, were pretty unlikely to be achieved in our lifetimes. The risk was based on extrapolation from 300+ ppb levels and chronic exposure. On the other hand, research into low-dose exposure, at University of Southern Maine, seems to indicate that chronic exposure to about 30 ppb (like our water in this area) can cause altered immune function. Is there any modern research into consequences of low dose arsenic? (Lance, no, heat does nothing, and only reverse osmosis and proprietary filters can remove arsenic from drinking water.)

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      The game-changer was really the National Academies of Science report a decade ago, which suggested that previous estimates by the World Health Organization and other authorities had underestimated the risk. The USDA report “Mean Total Arsenic Concentrations in Chicken 1989–2000 and Estimated Exposures for Consumers of Chicken” suggests that chicken alone could take up a substantial portion of one’s tolerable daily intake, so it may be even more important to think about restricting chicken consumption in an area where you know you’re already getting some in water. What kind of risk are we talking about? Those eating 12 oz of chicken a day have an estimated additional 1 in 300 chance of developing cancer in their lifetime.

      The difference between the water issue and the chicken issue–in my mind at least–is that most water contamination is a natural geological consequence of the element being in the Earth’s crust, whereas the poultry industry continues to actually feed the stuff to chickens, something that’s totally unnecessary. As Dr. Ellen Silbergeld remarked in an oncology publication about the feeding-chickens-arsenic-drugs issue (she is the Hopkins toxicologist who won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant for her work on mercury): “This is arsenic. We shouldn’t lose sight of the sheer outrageousness of this.”

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/ju6157/ ju6157

        What are the odds of the cancers from other meats and vegtables??

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/KatieBerry/ Katie Berry

    Our family really did get very sick from eating the brand called GoldnPlump that is carried in our one local grocery store! I printed off a sheet of arsenic poisoning symptoms, and we had many of them! This brand DOES feed arsenic laced feed, as it says on their website. We were eating the chicken every day, sometimes twice a day. We don’t have affordable access to pastured chickens, so we now buy Foster Farms frozen from Costco—they DO NOT feed their chickens arsenic or wheat—both of which DO get into the meat and make us sick. Looking at the arsenic levels in chicken meat—I think it’s especially dangerous for people like us who live with Celiac disease because our intestinal linings are already vulnerable with damage and to me, that arsenic has an easier time entering our bodies and getting us sick. Just our experience anyways. Why, oh why, is Europe SO far ahead of the almighty US when it comes to safer and healthier food for the masses????

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/ju6157/ ju6157

      arsenic symptoms are some what the same as food poisoning and other illnesses such as the flu. How could you tell that it was arsenic? You also mention wheat being feed to chickens is this also part of they ingredients?? Celiac disease sound bad is chicken something you need to eat everyday for this?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Though GoldnPlump argue that “There is no such thing as arsenic-free chicken,” they did have among the highest levels of arsenic of any brand tested in the United States. Note if you read their FAQ they defend the practice by arguing arsenic is a “naturally occurring element.” (So is plutonium, but that doesn’t make it something we want to feed our family.) Furthermore, GoldnPlump has argued that arsenic is everywhere: “It is in the soil that grows our crops, the water we drink, and the air that surrounds us, so it is normal to find low levels of naturally occurring arsenic in many food products.” As I was telling Steve, as a public health professional, I’m reminded of another industry that opted for a profitable poison to feather its nest. Leaded gasoline became an international public health disaster, but the manufacturers of the fuel additive made a similar argument: “During the entire history of man on this earth he has had lead in his body. He has had lead in his food, he has had lead in his drinking water….” This is not a convincing argument to further expose the public to toxins. You’ll note, though, that GoldnPlump says that since their supplier of the arsenic drug they were using suspended sales they claim to no longer be feeding their chickens arsenic.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/MichelleLloyd/ Michelle Lloyd

    I got a message from Perdu Chicken on Twitter today. This is what it said: PerdueChicken Perdue Chicken
    @Mkokopelli Be assured PERDUE doesn’t use arsenic. Improved health programs & better growing environment means healthy chickens without it.

    So is it coming just from the feed that they are unaware of? Any link to send back to them with the study?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Though they were staunch defenders of the practice, Perdue is to be commended for discontinuing the use of a carcinogenic toxin to pinken the flesh of their product. I’d love to see their meat get retested to support their claim. Hopefully we’ll see a federal ban on the practice soon to level the playing field and reward poultry companies that do the right thing.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/ju6157/ ju6157

    You mentioned one poultry company. Is there any out there that fair better? how dose poultry compare to beef and fish or pork? Isnt some of the Vegtables you eat laced also from sources such as water contaminats and soil contaminats. Nothing is really safe to eat any more huh?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      A national survey of arsenic contamination chicken found vast differences in the levels. For example one fast food chain’s chicken had 20 times the level of another. See the full results here. Beef probably has the lowest levels (please see my comment above to Steve Yamaguma). I have videos about arsenic and chicken, arsenic and fish, arsenic and rice, and arsenic and hijiki (a type of seaweed). One would not expect appreciable levels in other foods, though as Dr. Oz notes, since arsenic-containing pesticides are still legal in many countries we import food from apple juice and nonorganic imported wines from certain countries may still pose an arsenic risk. The primary problem with the contamination of chicken is that people eat so much of it that even low levels may build up within the body.

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  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drrggibbs/ drrggibbs
  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/LachicaveganaComefrutas/ Lachicavegana Comefrutas

    Dr. Greger-

    How would you get tested for arsenic? Are there other types of plant foods, teas, etc…that can help decrease the arsenic one already has in his/her body?

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  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mike-quinoa/ Mike Quinoa

    Drrggibbs,

    It’s a qualified blessing from the FDA on chicken, since that blessing hinges on the pharma company phasing out 3-Nitro.

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