Watchdogs Blast EPA for Allowing Arsenic in Chicken & Swine Feed
(CN) - Lax federal regulators allow arsenic-based additives in chicken and swine feed that can cause cancer in humans, the Center for Food Safety claims in court.
Eight other watchdogs joined the Center for Food Safety in suing Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in San Francisco Federal Court.
"Petitioners are requesting immediate action because the use of arsenic-based feed additives in food-producing animals poses a serious yet completely avoidable health risk to humans," the complaint states.
The FDA approved the use of arsenic-based food additives in animal feed in the 1940s. "More than seventy years later, arsenic-containing feed additives - namely Roxarsone, arsanilic acid, nitarsone, and carbarsone - are still used in chicken, turkey, and swine production," the complaint states.
"In 2004 and 2005, plaintiff Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy tested for total arsenic residues in retail packages of raw chicken and in 'fast food' chicken sandwiches and nuggets. Test results revealed detectable levels of arsenic in the majority of supermarket chicken and in all 'fast food' chicken. Arsenic levels in chicken from birds for which there was a claim of 'no arsenic given' contained no arsenic or such a small amount that it was below the detection limit. These results strongly suggest that the use of arsenic-containing compounds in poultry feed leads to arsenic residues in chicken marketed and eaten in the United States.
"Inorganic arsenic is a known human carcinogen. It can contribute to cancers, heart disease, diabetes, declines in intellectual function, and can decrease a body's ability to respond to viruses. The organic form of arsenic - the form found in arsenic-containing compounds - was once considered safe at low levels. Recent studies show that organic arsenic can easily convert to inorganic arsenic. Further, organic arsenic may also be toxic in its own right, though an earlier history of organic arsenical toxicity has been largely overlooked by FDA."
The plaintiffs say the FDA failed to respond to their request to revoke approval for New Animal Drug Applications that use "arsenic-containing compounds" in feed for chicken, turkeys and swine."
Since they filed that petition in 2009, several "significant events have occurred" that failed to draw a response from a complacent FDA, the plaintiffs say.
Among other things, the FDA issued a report in February 2011 that found that chickens treated with Roxarsone had higher levels of inorganic arsenic in their livers than chickens not treated with the additive, the complaint states.
But the FDA has not taken Roxarsone off the market, nor has it studied the effects of treating animals with other arsenic-based compounds.
"FDA's failure to act has completely failed to close the loophole on an avoidable exposure pathway to a known carcinogen," the complaint states.
"Nearly three-and-a-half years have now passed since FDA docketed the 2009 petition for rulemaking. Not only has FDA failed to act under the FFDA [Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act], the agency has not meaningfully responded to the 2009 petition and is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. In the interim, evidence of the negative effects of arsenic-based feed additives continues to mount."
The groups ask the court to declare the FDA in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act and compel it to respond to the petition.
They are represented by Paige M. Tomaselli, in-house counsel for the Center for Food Safety.
Here are the plaintiffs: Center for Food Safety; Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; Center for Environmental Health; Center for Biological Diversity; Food Animal Concerns Trust; Food and Water Watch; Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility; Health Care Without Harm; and San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility.