In May 2012, Governor Martin O’Malley signed a bill banning the use of arsenic in chicken feed, making Maryland the first state to prohibit the chemical’s use in poultry production since the FDA approved it in 1944.
Many people are shocked to learn that arsenic has long been an ingredient in chicken feed, but it’s true. Arsenic, in the form of the chemical compound roxarsone, is added to chicken feed to control the intestinal disease coccidiosis and promote the growth of a chicken. However, there is little evidence that roxarsone is effective or necessary for the health and growth of the chicken. Arsenic from the chickens’ waste can also end up contaminating soil when it’s used as fertilizer. Using arsenic in feed is a bad idea all around: it’s not necessary and it’s not safe.
Though banning this product may seem like a no-brainer, the poultry industry is a powerful force in Maryland politics, and it took a powerful organizing effort to overcome them. As part of the movement to ban arsenic in poultry production, Food & Water Watch partnered with community leaders throughout Maryland to educate people about the threat roxarsone posed to public health, and put pressure on state legislators to ensure chicken produced in Maryland was safe to eat.
Maryland, as the first state in the U.S. to ban arsenic in chicken feed, stood as a great example to the rest of the country. Local activists and groups like Food & Water Watch once again demonstrated the power that a well-planned organizing effort can have in effecting change: thanks in part to the momentum gathered in Maryland, a wide national effort successfully pressured the FDA to withdraw approval for arsenic-based veterinary drugs at the end of 2015.