Why the news about arsenic in chicken should bother us even if we don’t live in the U.S.

A couple of weeks ago, news broke out about “new scientific studies suggesting that poultry on factory farms are routinely fed caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and even arsenic.” I read half a dozen reports on the subject and wondered if I should write something about it. It is food related but the findings are limited to poultry raised in the U.S. Although more than half of my readers come from the U.S., there are so many reports about the arsenic-in-chicken already, so was there any need to regurgitate the news?

In short, unconvinced that there was any wisdom in repeating what had already been written, I turned away from the topic. Until it hit me.

In countless grocery stores, I have encountered frozen chicken quarters. Large unbranded chicken quarters that don’t come from locally grown chickens but are, in fact, imported from the U.S., according to the labels. And you’ll also find unbranded frozen turkey legs and breasts in the frozen section of many grocery stores. That puts the scary news in a totally different dimension. Just because I don’t live in the U.S. doesn’t mean that I am totally safe from the dangers of eating drugged poultry.

casaveneracion.com Let’s start with the 2005 announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it was banning “antimicrobial drug enrofloxacin for the purpose of treating bacterial infections in poultry” (read the full text of the announcement).

Recently, “Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and Arizona State University found evidence suggesting that a class of antibiotics previously banned by the U.S. government for poultry production is still in use.” The drugs were found in feather meal — dried and ground poultry feathers used in the production of animal feed and fertilizer.

In conducting the study, researchers analyzed commercially available feather meal samples, acquired from six U.S. states and China, for a suite of 59 pharmaceuticals and personal care products. All 12 samples tested had between 2 and 10 antibiotic residues. In addition to antimicrobials, 7 other personal care products, including the pain reliever acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), the antihistamine diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl) and the antidepressant fluoxetine (the active ingredient in Prozac), were detected.

Researchers also found caffeine in 10 of 12 feather meal samples… [Source]

casaveneracion.com In short, even after the feathers had been hydrolyzed under extreme heat and pressure to turn them into feather meal, the drugs were still there. Just how much higher could the drug residue be in the chicken meat which had been eaten by humans?

The most jarring note is that antibiotics are routinely given to chickens (in their feeds and water) not so much to keep them free from disease but to make them grow faster. Whether the average chicken raiser is aware of exactly what chemicals are in the antibiotics that he feeds to his chickens is anyone’s guess.

The obvious question, of course, is whether local poultry raisers, especially the gargantuan corporations, have not been using the same procedure in raising their chickens. It isn’t illegal to feed the chickens with drugs. In fact, a document from the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture recommends vaccination, broad spectrum antibiotics and sulfa drugs to treat and prevent common poultry diseases.

casaveneracion.com However, as early as the 1990s, certain drugs related to animals and animal feeds had already been banned. For instance, in a 1990 administrative order of the Department of Agriculture, “Chloramphenicol is banned from use in all food producing animals, including in aquaculture, regardless of the route of administration.” In a 2000 administrative order of the Department of Health, “Olaquindox and Carbadox shall no longer be allowed for use in all food producing animals, including in aquaculture regardless of the route of administration.” There is a long list on the website of the Philippine Veterinary Medical Association.

AND YET, in 2006, the Department of Agriculture issued an administrative order creating a Committee on Veterinary Drug Residue in Food based on the premise (stated as a “whereas”) that the “Philippines has to strengthen its Veterinary Drug Residues Program to ensure that the feed supplies are safe and food are compliant with Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs).”

What other conclusion can be drawn from the need to create such a committee? That despite the routine banning of certain veterinary drugs over the years, there has been a shortfall in the implementation and monitoring. In short, what banned drugs could consumers — us — have been ingesting over the decades? Scary thought.

The safest route, it would seem, is to take the organic path. Buy and eat organic chicken raised on organic feed. The problem is that any darn chicken seller can pass off his chickens as organic and how are we to know that they aren’t?

Stock photos from Stock.XCHNG.