“It is not surprising or worrisome that very low levels of arsenic were found on chicken,” said Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs. The statement was in response to a very small Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study that claims to have found extremely low levels of inorganic arsenic on chicken meat. “Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our environment that is widely distributed within the earth’s soil, air and water.”
Chickens in the United States produced for meat, known as broilers, are no longer given feed additives that contain arsenicals. Some broiler flocks used to be given feed that contained a product called Roxarsone, which included safe levels of organic arsenic. Even though the science shows that such low levels of arsenic do not harm chickens or the people eating them, this product was removed from the market in June, 2011 and is no longer used in raising broilers in the U.S. No other feed additives containing arsenic are currently fed to broilers in the U.S.
Peterson added, “The samples analyzed, taken as part of this extremely small, agenda-driven study, were purchased before Roxarsone was removed from the market in June, 2011, and the conclusions are used to intentionally mislead consumers.
Even if one agrees with the scientific methods and conclusions of this controversial study, some perspective is needed. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets safety limits for the amount of arsenic in drinking water. That limit is 10 parts per billion. Researchers in this study claim to have found about 2 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in conventional chicken, or five times less than what the EPA deems as safe for water. (To place one part per billion in perspective, this quantity is equivalent to 1.7 inches in relation to the circumference of the Earth.)
To put the authors’ cancer risk calculation into perspective, if a person consumed an additional one glass of water every day they would ingest approximately the same amount of inorganic arsenic, and the same calculation could be made. “Would the public be cautioned about drinking an additional glass of water each day?” Peterson asked.
It is also interesting to note that the proposed EPA slope factor (25.7) for cancer risk is used by the authors rather than the currently accepted EPA slope factor (1.5). If the accepted and current EPA slope factor was used, the cancer risk by the authors’ own numbers changes the risk from 3.7 additional cases of bladder or lung cancer per 100,000 people to less than 0.22 additional cases.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provide oversight and guidance to ensure food and beverages in the U.S. are safe for you and your family,” Peterson concluded. “There is no documented evidence to suggest that very tiny levels of arsenic in our food supply pose any health problems.”
For more questions and answers about arsenic’s presence in food and chicken feed, click here.