Arsenic Suit Seeks To Pit Arkansas Chicken and Rice Sectors Against Each Another

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 12:00 am  

However, concerns over arsenic in chicken — and in the waste chickens produce — are nothing new. The poultry industry for years treated chickens with arsenic to help control coccidiosis, a disease striking the birds’ intestinal tract. Arsenic-containing drugs have also been used for weight gain and to enhance the pink color of chicken flesh.

Arsenic is found in two forms: organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic is not considered carcinogenic; the inorganic form is more toxic and is considered a human carcinogen.

In 1944, the FDA approved the first arsenic-containing animal drug, 3-Nitro (also known as Roxarsone), whose active ingredient was organic arsenic. The drug was used primarily in broiler chickens. At the time 3-Nitro was approved, scientists thought that animals treated with the drug would excrete it in the form in which they took it in: the less harmful organic arsenic.

However, scientists eventually discovered that organic arsenic could break down into the cancer-causing inorganic arsenic when metabolized by chickens and on exposure to the elements after excretion.

The FDA then performed a study that found that the levels of inorganic arsenic in the livers of chickens treated with 3-Nitro (Roxarsone) were higher than those that didn’t receive the drug.

In June 2011, the agency announced that Alpharma, a subsidiary of the drug-making giant Pfizer Inc., was voluntarily halting sales of 3-Nitro.

On Sept. 19, Consumer Reports released its findings indicating that many kinds of rice products contain what the nonprofit described as “worrisome” levels of arsenic, in both its organic and inorganic forms.

“White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas generally had higher levels of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic than rice samples from elsewhere (India, Thailand and California combined),” Consumer Reports said.

Currently, no federal limit exists for arsenic in most foods. On the day it released its findings, Consumer Reports called for the federal government to set limits on arsenic in rice.

A few hours later, the FDA released its own sample analysis and said it was collecting and analyzing another 1,000 samples of rice and rice products, a process that would be finished by the end of this year. The agency will then analyze the results and decide whether more recommendations are needed.

News outlets throughout the country gave wide play to the Consumer Reports findings.

Less than a month later, three Arkansas farming operations filed a class-action lawsuit in Arkansas County Circuit Court in Stuttgart alleging that arsenic found in Arkansas rice is caused by farmers’ use of chicken litter as fertilizer. The suit named Pfizer and Alpharma as defendants. But it also named some of the biggest poultry companies in Arkansas — Tyson Foods Inc. and George’s Farms Inc., both of Springdale, Simmons Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs and Peterson Farms Inc. of Decatur — as well as Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. of Greeley, Colo.



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