Photo: Jane Cockman (Flickr)
A History Of Arsenic
American chicken farmers have been feeding arsenic-laced feed to their flocks since the 1950s, claiming that the food additive roxarsone, called 3-Nitro, was safe for consumption. Arsenic kills internal parasites in chickens and makes chicken meat look pinker, which helps it appear fresher on store shelves.
3-Ritro is made by Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company. Pfizer conducted its own tests to gauge the health effects of arsenic fed chicken, and the conclusion was that it was safe. Chicken council spokesman Richard Lobb dismissed concerns by saying, “We’ve always been able to show that there’s really no reason to be concerned about human health.”
New Studies, New Actions
However, new studies conducted by the FDA show that there are reasons to worry about roxarsone.
Arsenic is a known carcinogen in its inorganic form; it is fed to chickens in a less toxic organic form. The FDA proved in its studies that if chickens were fed roxarone with the organic form of arsenic, their carcasses had consistently higher levels of the dangerous inorganic form.
The Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and other consumer groups have been petitioning the FDA to ban roxarone since 2008.
When the FDA released its study, Pfizer conducted a “full scientific assessment” and then “voluntarily” suspended use of 3-Nitro.
FDA Vs. Drug Companies
A major victory in this case is the triumph of the FDA’s independent testing.
As Marion Nettle says, “Drug companies cannot be expected to do their own testing if there is any chance that the tests will show something not in their best interest. If independent federal agencies don’t do these kinds of studies, who will?”
The New York Times agrees. “The FDA once routinely conducted its own studies of animal and human drugs, but limited budgets led the agency to eliminate much of its scientific and laboratory capacity over the years. The roxarsone study is a triumph for agency scientists but one unlikely to be repeated very often. The agency asked for $183 million in additional funds for food safety efforts next year, but House Republicans have instead proposed cutting $87 million.”
A History of Protection
Since it began as the U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1820, the FDA has been protecting consumers against dangerous food and drug practices. The following milestones are just a small example of how its independent testing keeps U.S. citizens safe:
- 1906: The Meat Inspection Act is passed which for the first time regulated the shockingly unsanitary conditions of meat-packing plants. It also regulated the poisonous preservatives and dyes used in meat at the time.
- 1912: The Sherley Amendment prohibited false labeling on medicine. For instance, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup promised to calm teething and colicky babies, but the unlabeled drug contained morphine that killed many infants.
- 1938: The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act passed which allowed the government to have greater control over drugs, factory inspections, and drug marketing claims. This followed the 1937 Elixer of Sulfaniladmide scandal when 107 people were killed by the drug which contained solven diethylene glycol. Many of those who died were children.
- 1954: The Miller Pesticide Amendment made procedures for setting safer limits on pesticide use.
- 1962: The Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendment helped make drugs safer by requiring that drug companies prove to the FDA the effectiveness of the product before it was marketed to consumers.
- 1988: The Food and Drug Administration Act officially established the FDA as an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.
- 2000: Through the rule on dietary supplements, the FDA defined the type of statement that can be made about supplements and their effect on the body.
- 2009: The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed into law. This gave the FDA permission to require warnings and labels on tobacco packages and advertisements. The goal was to discourage young people from smoking.