Contributed by: Rachel Pafe
But this is a story of how consumers, corporations, and a State government all agreed that neither chickens nor the people who eat them should be ingesting poison and are making change happen.
Ideally, this would mean no more arsenic in chicken feed. In reality, it turned many farmers into hoarders, causing them to stockpile huge amounts of the drug before it was officially off the market. This phenomenon was especially prevalent in Eastern Shore Maryland, whereFood and Water Watch states that farmers used their illegal stashes to feed three million chickens per year. Three million! These chickens produced an estimated one billion pounds of waste, which was frequently used as fertilizer, meaning the arsenic kept spreading throughout the environment. In light of this disappointing response, Maryland governor Martin O’Mally is expected to sign a state ban on the drug, which would go into effect January 1, 2013. The bill would specifically target the farmers ignoring the Roxarsone ban, mainly growers on the Eastern Maryland shore.
While the farmers’ initial response is discouraging, there is a silver lining. Well before the introduction of the recent bill, H.B. 167, many restaurants refused to buy chicken that had been fed Rozarsone. Even when the drug was still legal, consumer backlash from the FDA tests caused companies such as McDonalds, Chipotle, and Purina to react. (Insert applause.) In response to the issue, Chipotle’s website actually states, “We think arsenic sounds a lot like poison.” We agree.
The ban on Rozarsone is less about the drug itself, which its maker voluntarily took off the market, than about further raising consumer awareness. Kenneth Staver, an associate research scientist who studied Rozarsone for the House Environmental Matters Committee stated that, “The whole thing about putting arsenic in the food supply was getting blowback from people sating, ‘I can’t believe they put arsenic in the food we eat.’” The ban, which arose from protests by a combination of environmentalists, animal lovers, and foodies, illustrates the immense power of consumers to influence those who represent them and the corporations that supply their products. Smart moves by all involved! (Except the hoarding farmers – we’d love to hear an explanation for this behavior. Anyone? Anyone?)
The lesson here? Keep informed. There should never be poison in your food, but if you want to ensure that you have the best quality, don’t be afraid to investigate. And? If you find that arsenic, complain! Corporations will listen. The FDA states, “Timely reporting by consumers, health professionals, and FDA-regulated companies allows the agency to take prompt action.”
To explore this and other issues further, you can go to:http://www.consumersunion.org/food.html for policy and action from consumer reports,http://www.fightbac.org/ for food safety information, and http://www.fda.gov/safety/reportaproblem/default.htm to report a problem.
As always, we welcome your comments – here on the blog, on Facebook, or Tweet to us @phbalancedfilms. Happy Memorial Day to all and may your BBQ chicken be arsenic-free!
UPDATE: We got a question from a reader through our Facebook page, asking: ”I noticed your posting and it both inspired me (to download BBd’s Poison on Pandora and jam to it here at work) and perplexed me. I love chicken. What am I to do? Is all chicken Poison??? any guidance would be greatly appreciated.”
Our response: Thanks for your question! No, not all chicken is poison – or poisoned. The FDA says it “does not believe there is a need to stop eating chicken” in response to this announcement. But remember, the FDA recommendations are the “floor” here – in the sense that you wouldn’t want standards any lower – but you might decide that you personally wanthigher standards for the food you put in your body. If you are concerned about the quality of the meat you are eating, you can check its labeling to ensure that you are getting a good product. One way to do this is to buy organic. This blog post by Whole Foods explains just what organic means (ie. feed differences, no hormones, outdoor access). There is also a difference between free range and organic chicken, which National Geographic explains: ”free range” chicken has more access to outdoor space, while “organic” chicken has lower levels of anti-bacterial resistant hormones. The bottom line? Keep checking labels to know where your chicken came from and how it was raised to ensure the chicken is NOT POISON. If you have questions, we encourage you to ask the store and/or the company that provided it. And if you feel it’s a problem in the state where you live, let your lawmakers know they have a good example of Maryland already banning this additive in feed. (And glad you enjoyed the song, too!)