Food and environmental concerns have lead Maryland to become the first US state to ban the use of arsenic in poultry feed.
The bill signed by Governor Martin O'Malley this week prohibits the use, sale, or distribution of commercial feed containing arsenic. It takes effect January 1st 2013 and specifically mentions two Pfizer drugs; Roxarsone, which the company voluntarily withdrew from the market last year, and Histostat, which is still on the market.
The health concerns were brought to light last year on the release of a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study that found increased levels of inorganic arsenic in the livers of chickens treated with the Roxarsone. The new data raised concerns of a "very low but completely avoidable exposure to a carcinogen," said Michael Taylor, FDA's Deputy Commissioner for Foods, when FDA announced the company was withdrawing the drug in response to the study's findings.
Arsenic is a known human carcinogen and has been linked to a variety of health concerns, but FDA said the levels found in their poultry study are low enough that consumers are not at risk eating poultry while Roxarsone is phased out of use in the United States.
There are also concerns that feeding arsenicals to poultry has had a harmful impact on the environment. According to Food and Water Watch, Maryland's poultry producers spread nearly 10,000 kg of arsenic -- which is found in the fecal waste -- to farmland "which ultimately gets washed into waterways like the Chesapeake Bay."
A recent study by researchers at the University of Maryland
found that poultry fed Roxarsone produced poultry litter -- the waste from production, which includes feces, feathers and bedding -- that contains 2.9 to 77 times the arsenic than poultry not fed Roxarsone. Further, the team found that the arsenic in the litter broke down into inorganic, the kind known to be harmful to human health, and it accumulates in soil.