The Attorney General of Maryland, Douglas Gansler (D), has written an opinion article in The Washington Post stating that chicken is “laced with arsenic.” Mr. Gansler is wrong: absolutely, provably wrong.
If Mr. Gansler were actually to read up on this subject, rather than take his lead from various activists, he would study the findings of the federal agency charged with monitoring the presence of arsenic and other substances in certain foods.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is widely found. As the World Health Organization puts it: “Arsenic is ubiquitous, found in air, water, fuels, and marine life. The daily human intake of arsenic contained in food is in the range 0.5–1 milligrams.” Because trace amounts of arsenic occur widely, the Food & Drug Administration sets a tolerance level in foods. For chicken, that level is 0.5 parts per million.
“The truth is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service samples chicken among many other food for residues of arsenic and many other chemical compounds. The sampling for 2007 showed exactly zero violations among the chickens sampled. Zero,” NCC President George Watts wrote in a letter to the Washington Post.
FSIS also reports findings that do not violate the tolerance level. Some of the samples of chicken livers had findings of arsenic above the level of detection but below the tolerance level. This is because elements such as arsenic tend to “bioaccumulate” in the liver. You would have to eat an enormous amount of chopped liver before you would come close to having a problem, even on a theoretical basis.
As for chicken meat, which is what people normally eat, the agency found no samples with any arsenic at all. This shows that any arsenic present was so insignificant that it was below the level of laboratory detection.
It also shows that chicken is not “laced” with arsenic, whatever Mr. Gansler might think.
Animal health products that include arsenic as one of their chemical building blocks are used in some chicken flocks by some poultry companies. These products are effective in preventing coccidiosis in chickens, which is an infection by microscopic parasites. The use of these products is regulated by FDA.
These products are used to keep the chickens healthy, and a withdrawal period is observed to ensure that these products are not present when the chickens are processed for food. The fact that zero violations were found is proof that the prescribed withdrawal period is observed.
Mr. Gansler claims to have signed up a number of the other state attorneys general in his quest to ban the use of safe, effective products in poultry production. His colleagues might want to look at the facts and take their cue from the experts rather than from an uninformed politician.
The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce and process chickens. Member companies of NCC account for approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.