The drug maker Pfizer announced this week that it will suspend the sale of Roxarsone (3-Nitro), a drug used to kill parasites and promote growth in pigs and poultry, because it contains a form of arsenic that can become carcinogenic in humans.
The company took the step after a study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that chickens given the drug had higher amount of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, in their livers. But the FDA says people can continue to eat chicken, because the levels detected didn’t present a health risk.
The FDA did not test other chicken parts, like breasts or legs. Our 2005 tests of chicken found some forms of arsenic in many chicken livers on the market, though not in those from organically grown chickens.
“Action on this drug is long overdue,” said Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a senior scientist with Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Arsenic in chicken production poses a risk not only to human health, but to the environment. Arsenic can end up in the manure from chicken coops, and this is spread on agricultural land as fertilizer. We need to get arsenic out of food production altogether." He points out that the European Union has already taken steps to do just that.
See our advice on other safety issues regarding chicken, including how to avoid food poisoning from bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter.
Pfizer will voluntarily suspend sale of animal drug 3-Nitro [FDA]
CU commends Pfizer withdrawal of arsenic-containing animal drug [Consumers Union]
Questions and Answers Regarding 3-Nitro (Roxarsone) [FDA]