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Pfizer Suspends Use of Poultry Arsenic Drug

June 8, 2011

The Food and Drug Administration announced on June 8 that a major drug company voluntarily agreed to suspend US sales of an arsenical drug used in poultry production.

This step follows an FDA study that found higher levels of arsenic in the livers of chickens treated with 3-Nitro (Roxarsone) than in untreated chickens.

Pfizer Inc. subsidiary Alpharma responded to the agency’s request to take action, suspending sales of the drug 30 days from today.

Advocacy organizations have for years pressured FDA to take action on the use of arsenicals in animal agriculture.  In 2009, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and the Center for Food Safety petitioned FDA to end the use of arsenic in animal feed.

“The use of arsenic in meat production is unnecessary, and, from a public health perspective, reckless,” said Dr. David Wallinga, a physician and author of the 2006 IATP report, Playing Chicken, which revealed that over 70 percent of all chickens raised for meat in the US are fed arsenic.

“Actions like this have been a long time in the coming,” observed Dr. Margaret Mellon, Director of the Union of Concerned Scientist’s Food and Environment Program.   “I’m glad see the FDA press the company into withdrawing the drug, but of course a voluntary action can be reversed at any time.”

Mellon said she would like to see FDA study other potentially dangerous feed additives and take more actions like this in the future.

The FDA reports that 3-Nitro became, in 1944, the first approved new animal drug containing arsenic.  3-Nitro has been routinely fed to broiler (meat) chickens to help control a parasitic disease as well as to improve weight gain, feed efficiency, and pigmentation.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Food Safety, Local & Regional Food Systems

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