Arsenic Prohibition Testimony – Maryland Senate Bill 417
Support Senate Bill 417
Testimony Prepared for the Maryland Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee On Senate Bill 417 – In Support of Arsenic Prohibition
March 1, 2011
Dear Madame Chair and Senators of this Committee,
My name is Patty Lovera and I am the Assistant Director of the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to testify on behalf of our 6000 members and supporters in Maryland. We are extremely concerned about the unnecessary risk associated with arsenic-based poultry feed and we support Senate Bill 417.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of arsenic-containing drugs for poultry when FDR was president. Since then, science has shown that arsenic is a known carcinogen, and chronic arsenic exposure over time increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other health problems. The American Cancer Society urges the importance of reducing arsenic exposure from any venue as much as possible since its effects are cumulative. Yet most consumers have no idea that arsenic is used to raise the chicken they feed their families.
While our knowledge about the risks arsenic poses to the environment and public health has grown, unfortunately the federal regulatory system has failed to keep up and has left consumers and the environment unprotected.
During the half-century that has passed since the FDA approved arsenic-based drugs, new science has shown that arsenic residues may be higher in chicken meat than previously thought. One study by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found arsenic in 74 percent of non-organic, non-premium retail chicken and in 100 percent of the fast food chicken they tested.
The Environmental Protection Agency has evaluated and then tightened the standards for arsenic in drinking water supplies. Yet during this half-century, FDA has not once revised its standards for arsenic levels in poultry, even as chicken consumption has increased dramatically. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program for testing broiler chickens for arsenic residues conducts startlingly few tests. Between 2000 and 2008, the USDA tested only 1 out of every 12 million domestically produced chickens (or .00008 percent). In 2005 and 2008, the department conducted no tests for arsenic residues in domestically produced broilers.
While federal regulators failed to take action to protect consumers from arsenic, it has become clear that arsenic-free poultry production is possible. Major players in the poultry industry, like Perdue, have actually begun to give up the use of roxarsone. In fact, Perdue states they “found that, through improved flock health programs and housing environments, we are able to produce healthy chickens without it.” The European Union has already banned the use of arsenical drugs in poultry feed and has a zero tolerance level for arsenic in chicken meat.
But it shouldn’t be left to individual companies to decide – or consumers to wonder – if arsenic is used to raise poultry. If the federal government won’t protect consumers and make public health a priority, then we need states like Maryland to lead the way by passing Senate Bill 417 to end the use of arsenic in chicken feed.
Food & Water Watch
1616 P St. NW, Suite 300
Washington DC 20036
Phone (202) 683-2465