How Many Cancers Have Been Caused by Arsenic-Laced Chicken?

How Many Cancers Have Been Caused by Arsenic-Laced Chicken?
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Arsenic-containing drugs intentionally added to poultry feed to reduce the parasite burden and pinken the meat are apparently converted by cooking into carcinogenic inorganic arsenic compounds.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In 2013, Maryland became “the first state to ban” the feeding of an arsenic-containing drug to chickens, used to control all the parasites, and give their meat “an appealing pink color.” “In 2011 the [FDA] found that the livers of…chickens [fed this drug] had elevated levels of [inorganic arsenic], a known human carcinogen. In response, [the drug’s] manufacturer, Pfizer, voluntarily pulled the drug off the U.S. market, although it is still sold overseas,” including to places that continue to export chicken back to us. And, “a similar arsenic[-containing] drug [for use in poultry] is still available in the United States. But, at least, the ban kept Maryland farmers from using stockpiles of the drug.

How much arsenic gets into the actual meat, though, not just the internal organs? We didn’t know, until recently. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health coordinated the purchase of chicken breasts off grocery store shelves in ten cities across the country, and found “70% of samples of chicken meat” from poultry producers that didn’t prohibit arsenic drugs were contaminated with the cancer-causing form of arsenic, at levels that “exceeded [the safety] threshold[s]” originally set by the FDA—that is, before they relented, and admitted there’s really no safe level of this kind of arsenic.

See, when the drug was first approved, “scientists believed its organic arsenic base would be excreted unchanged.” And, organic arsenic is much less dangerous than inorganic arsenic. But, guess what appears to convert the drug into the carcinogenic form? Cooking. When chicken meat is cooked, levels of the arsenic-containing drug go down, and levels of carcinogenic arsenic go up, suggesting that the drug “may degrade into [the cancer-causing inorganic arsenic] species during cooking.”

How much cancer are we talking about? If you estimate that about three-quarters of Americans eat chickens, then the arsenic in that chicken has potentially been causing more than a hundred cases of cancer every year. They conclude that “eliminating the use of arsenic-[containing] drugs in [chicken and pig] production could reduce the burden of arsenic-related disease[s] in the U.S. population.”

That’s one of the ways arsenic gets into rice. When we feed arsenic to chickens, to pinken their flesh, the resulting arsenic-bearing poultry manure is then “introduced to the environment.” The soil, the water, and then the rice can then suck it up from contaminated soil, and “be transferred to human beings” that don’t even eat chicken. We’re talking massive environmental contamination from the poultry industry; nearly two million pounds of arsenic has been “poured into the environment [every year] by the [chicken] industry alone” in the United States.

And now, we’re even seeing arsenic in foods sweetened with organic brown rice syrup—so, there’s all these knock-on effects. It reminds me of the arsenic-in-apple-juice story. Although the U.S. made lead- and arsenic-based pesticides illegal years ago, they still persist in the soil, so “even organic [products] are not immune.”

Yes, there’s arsenic deposits naturally found in the Earth’s crust, and there’s other industrial contamination and pesticide use, but “arsenic[-containing] poultry drugs have been deliberately administered to animals intended for human consumption [for 70 years]. Consequently, exposures resulting from [the] use of these drugs are far more controllable than are exposures from environmental sources.”

And, the good news is that thanks to a lawsuit from the Center for Food Safety and other consumer groups, three out of the four arsenic-containing drugs fed to poultry have been officially pulled from the market.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to michelle@TNS via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In 2013, Maryland became “the first state to ban” the feeding of an arsenic-containing drug to chickens, used to control all the parasites, and give their meat “an appealing pink color.” “In 2011 the [FDA] found that the livers of…chickens [fed this drug] had elevated levels of [inorganic arsenic], a known human carcinogen. In response, [the drug’s] manufacturer, Pfizer, voluntarily pulled the drug off the U.S. market, although it is still sold overseas,” including to places that continue to export chicken back to us. And, “a similar arsenic[-containing] drug [for use in poultry] is still available in the United States. But, at least, the ban kept Maryland farmers from using stockpiles of the drug.

How much arsenic gets into the actual meat, though, not just the internal organs? We didn’t know, until recently. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health coordinated the purchase of chicken breasts off grocery store shelves in ten cities across the country, and found “70% of samples of chicken meat” from poultry producers that didn’t prohibit arsenic drugs were contaminated with the cancer-causing form of arsenic, at levels that “exceeded [the safety] threshold[s]” originally set by the FDA—that is, before they relented, and admitted there’s really no safe level of this kind of arsenic.

See, when the drug was first approved, “scientists believed its organic arsenic base would be excreted unchanged.” And, organic arsenic is much less dangerous than inorganic arsenic. But, guess what appears to convert the drug into the carcinogenic form? Cooking. When chicken meat is cooked, levels of the arsenic-containing drug go down, and levels of carcinogenic arsenic go up, suggesting that the drug “may degrade into [the cancer-causing inorganic arsenic] species during cooking.”

How much cancer are we talking about? If you estimate that about three-quarters of Americans eat chickens, then the arsenic in that chicken has potentially been causing more than a hundred cases of cancer every year. They conclude that “eliminating the use of arsenic-[containing] drugs in [chicken and pig] production could reduce the burden of arsenic-related disease[s] in the U.S. population.”

That’s one of the ways arsenic gets into rice. When we feed arsenic to chickens, to pinken their flesh, the resulting arsenic-bearing poultry manure is then “introduced to the environment.” The soil, the water, and then the rice can then suck it up from contaminated soil, and “be transferred to human beings” that don’t even eat chicken. We’re talking massive environmental contamination from the poultry industry; nearly two million pounds of arsenic has been “poured into the environment [every year] by the [chicken] industry alone” in the United States.

And now, we’re even seeing arsenic in foods sweetened with organic brown rice syrup—so, there’s all these knock-on effects. It reminds me of the arsenic-in-apple-juice story. Although the U.S. made lead- and arsenic-based pesticides illegal years ago, they still persist in the soil, so “even organic [products] are not immune.”

Yes, there’s arsenic deposits naturally found in the Earth’s crust, and there’s other industrial contamination and pesticide use, but “arsenic[-containing] poultry drugs have been deliberately administered to animals intended for human consumption [for 70 years]. Consequently, exposures resulting from [the] use of these drugs are far more controllable than are exposures from environmental sources.”

And, the good news is that thanks to a lawsuit from the Center for Food Safety and other consumer groups, three out of the four arsenic-containing drugs fed to poultry have been officially pulled from the market.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to michelle@TNS via flickr

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