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How Much Arsenic In Rice Came From Chickens?

September 20, 2012 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 18 Comments

It may be no coincidence that the rice found most contaminated with arsenic originated from some of the top poultry producing states such as Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri. Earlier this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found levels of arsenic in chicken feather meal up to 100 times that found in apple juice by Dr. Oz last year and 10 times that just found in rice. Feather meal is made from the billion pounds of feathers plucked from chicken carcasses annually (sometimes with heads, guts, manure, and feet thrown in to increase protein and mineral content) and is fed to farmed fish, pigs, poultry, and cattle as well as used to fertilize both conventional and organic crops. Chicken manure is also used directly as feed and fertilizer and has been found to significantly increase arsenic levels in the soil.

Some of the arsenic in apple juice and rice may from the use of arsenic-containing pesticides, but how did arsenic get into the chickens? The poultry industry fed it to them.

Two million pounds of arsenic-containing chemicals have been fed to chickens annually 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. Arsenic can also 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 last summer, that it has suspended sales to domestic poultry companies after the FDA found concerning levels of a particularly toxic form of arsenic in edible tissues of chickens eating feed laced with their arsenic-containing drug. Unfortunately, the drug company continues to manufacture and export the feed additive and another arsenic-containing poultry drug remains on the U.S. market.

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 videos Arsenic in Rice and Arsenic in Chicken.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

Image credit: tsuihin – TimoStudios / Flickr

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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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  • G Oreilly

    Hi,

    Huge fan of your site and your work. Saw this article today and in it the expert states there are myriad scientific studies supporting meat and dairy being good for you. Do you know what she is referring to and if so why don’t they appear on your site?

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444184704577587174077811182.html?KEYWORDS=colin+campbell&utm_source=Master+List&utm_campaign=b40238e54a-Newsletter_Sept_2012_tracking&utm_medium=email#articleTabs%3Darticle

    Kind regards,

    Gary

    • Toxins

       There is not a myraid of studies showing meat to be “healthy”. The opposite is true. The article provides no sources of evidence.

    • Mike Quinoa

      Hi Gary,

      I followed your link, and also read the comments following the two opposing viewpoints. Seems the pro-meat lady has a few conflicts of interest, as a few astute commenters pointed out:

      http://www.cag.uconn.edu/nutsci/nutsci/hpg/nrr.html

      A lot of her grant money comes from Big Beef / Dairy. It’s hard to bite the hand that feeds.

  • Pingback: How Much Arsenic in Rice Came From Chickens Just to Pinken Their Flesh? « plantcentric

  • http://poxacuatl.wordpress.com/ Strix

    It always leads back to the same place. Follow the meat trail.

  • Toxins

    I notice that the uncle Ben’s brown rice had levels of arsenic higher then what was recommended in the consumer reports. I tend to eat several servings of this rice nearly everyday. Is this a cause for concern?

    • http://poxacuatl.wordpress.com/ Strix

       Hey, Toxins, thanks ;^)

      • Toxins

        I am not sure why, but your welcome!

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

       I would be concerned with the consumption of arsenic in any amounts. I also consume brown rice regularly and take steps to minimize the amount of arsenic by using organic brands. I enjoy your posts keep up the great work. Best wishes.

  • Richard Pendarvis

    Good work!  All heavy metals have common problems in that they do not go away (dissapate,”break down” etc.)  and once dispersed in the environment will continue to be a problem.   In addition, they all carry a heavy toxic burden and accumulate in any creature consuming them by whatever means.  It would be interesting to find out how much of this is ending up in sewage, lakes, rivers etc.

    It is troubling that lead could be eliminated from gasoline because of environmental effects but arsenic cannot be eliminated from chicken feed because of health effects. 

    Richard Pendarvis (Ph.D. Chemistry)

  • Lars

    Is this a problem with just domestic rice or also imported rice – India, China, SE Asia etc?

    • Thea

       Good question.  I am also interested because ever since I saw Dr. Gerger’s video on the anti-oxidants in red rice, I have been eating red rice whenever I eat rice.  The rice I get is from an Asian market.  I don’t know it’s source, but I wonder if it is actually has less arsenic because maybe they do not have arsenic fed chickens near their rice paddies?  Just speculation on my part…

  • Guest
  • http://www.thenutritionprofessor.com/ Timaree Hagenburger

    Question for Dr. Greger – I have been showing videos in my classes and students have asked about the “safety” of consuming ”organic” and “grass-fed” meat (chicken, beef), etc., since they are not necessarily fed other animals (Cannibalistic Feed Biomagnification). I respond by telling them that they will still be ingesting hormones (naturally occuring in the animals), saturated fat, cholesterol and bacteria… Anything else that I can add?

  • Pingback: What happened to our food? | VItal Health and Nutrition

  • beccadoggie10

    Arsenic compounds have been used to promote growth in poultry and pigs for years, perhaps, even decades. The US FDA is one of its biggest promoters, as is big pharma. Furthermore, it is in the litter of poultry and appears to be allowed to be used by organic agricultural producers.
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/40823928/Arsenic-in-Poultry-Litter-Organic-Regulations
    I recall that lead arsenate was once allowed in orange groves in Florida and perhaps, also in California. The practice I think was eventually halted when the arsenic-lead combo built up enormously in the soil. Although, I must say, I have not revisited this issue in decades.
    No wonder so many of Americans have arsenic in our tap water. Where I live in South Louisiana, arsenic is at 3 ppb, but in Western Texas, it’s really high –in the alert levels. My fingers are often numb, and I’ve thought about putting in a R.O filter, so I don’t consume arsenic in my tap water. But, couldn’t it be in foods we eat as well other than poultry and pigs? Cadmium accumulates in certain vegetables according to the California Air Resources Board. What is to stop arsenic from accumulating in other crops as well?

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