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For Immediate Release, May 1, 2013

Contact:   Abigail Seiler, Center for Food Safety, (202) 679-3370
Andrew Ranallo, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, (612) 870-3456
Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 318

Lawsuit Filed to Get Arsenic Out of Animal Feed, Protect Public Health

WASHINGTON— The Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the Center for Biological Diversity and six other U.S. food safety, agriculture, public health and environmental groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday to compel the Food and Drug Administration to get arsenic out of animal feed. Specifically the suit seeks a response to the groups’ 2009 petition calling for immediate withdrawal of FDA’s approval of arsenic-containing compounds as feed additives for food animals. 

Arsenic is commonly added to poultry feed for the FDA-approved purposes of inducing faster weight gain on less feed, and creating the perceived appearance of a healthy color in meat from chickens, turkeys and hogs. The lawsuit seeks to force FDA to fulfill its mandate to better protect the public from arsenic. The 2009 petition presented abundant science to FDA that organic arsenic compounds — like those added to animal feed — are directly toxic to animals and humans, but also that they convert to cancer-causing, inorganic arsenic inside of chickens, in manure-treated soil and in humans.  Additional testing since submission of the 2009 petition demonstrates even greater cause for public concern and therefore greater urgency meriting FDA’s prompt attention. 

“FDA could easily and immediately fix the problem,” said Paige Tomaselli, senior staff attorney with Center for Food Safety, “but instead puts its head in the sand. We can only conclude the FDA is catering to the companies that continue to sell products containing arsenic that ends up in our food supply.”

First approved as animal feed additives in the 1940s, arsenic-containing compounds remain legal for use in U.S. chicken, turkey and swine production. They were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan and many other countries.

“FDA continues to drag its heels, as it has since we first blew the whistle seven years ago on arsenic being needlessly fed to chickens and turkeys, leading to detectable levels in supermarket meat and fast foods,” said Dr. David Wallinga, a physician with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “In banning arsenic from animal feed once and for all, perhaps the FDA will finally bring the U.S. on par with major trading partners who never deemed it safe in the first place.”

Because arsenic in animal waste reaches waterways, arsenic in animal feed poses a danger to wildlife species that interact with the contaminated water. Concentrations of arsenic in water as low as 1 part per billion have been reported to disrupt aquatic ecosystems by inhibiting the growth of certain aquatic plants. Fish are particularly susceptible to arsenic poisoning and the feeding practices of animal feeding operations will contribute to negative water quality harming numerous species freshwater species.

“It’s unacceptable to allow the poultry industry to continue poison the food chain with deadly arsenic,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Arsenic in our food and waterways threatens public health and ecosystems.”

Substantial evidence confirming the serious public health risks of using arsenic as a feed additive was provided as part of the 2009 petition to the FDA. The evidence has continued to grow, yet FDA still fails to respond to the 2009 petition:

  • In 2011, FDA reported its own study concluded that that organic arsenic could transform into the toxic carcinogen inorganic arsenic, and that levels of inorganic arsenic in chicken livers were substantially higher for chickens treated with the arsenical Roxarsone than for chickens not treated with Roxarsone.
  • Also in 2011, Alpharma (a division of Pfizer) announced it would voluntarily suspend — not revoke — sale of Roxarsone within 30 days following the release of FDA’s study. At the time, FDA said Roxarsone raised concerns of “completely avoidable exposure to a carcinogen.”
  • In 2012, Maryland’s governor signed H.B. 167, banning use, sale or distribution of Roxarsone or any other feed additive that contains arsenic, or histostat. 

Attorneys at the Center for Food Safety are representing a range of environmental, animal welfare and public health groups in the lawsuit including the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Food and Water Watch, Health Care Without Harm, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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