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Consumers Beware: Dangerous Levels of Arsenic Found in Non-Organic Chicken

From: Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy

PRESS RELEASE April 5, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Press contact
Ben Lilliston
(612) 870-3416 or blilliston@iatp.org

Arsenic Widespread in Chicken, Testing Finds
Avoidable arsenic commonly added to chicken feed; Arsenic-free chicken
available

Minneapolis ­ Brand name chicken products sold in American supermarkets and
fast food restaurants are widely contaminated with arsenic, according to
independent test results released today by the Institute for Agriculture and
Trade Policy (IATP).

Testing of 155 samples from uncooked supermarket chicken products found 55
percent carried detectable arsenic. Arsenic was more than twice as prevalent
in conventional brands of supermarket chicken as in certified organic and
other ³premium² brands. All 90 fast food chicken products tested by IATP
also contained detectable arsenic. The full report can be read at:
www.iatp.org.

Arsenic in chicken meat appears closely linked to the decades-old practice
of intentionally and routinely putting arsenic into chicken feed. At least
70 percent of U.S. broiler chickens have been fed arsenic, according to
estimates.

³Adding arsenic to chicken feed is a needless and ultimately avoidable
practice that only exposes more people to more of this ancient poison,² said
Dr. David Wallinga, a physician, author of Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic
in Your Meat, and director of IATP¹s Food and Health program.

³There is good news. Consumers can limit or eliminate their arsenic intake
in chicken by making smart choices about which chicken to buy,² said
Wallinga. ³Our testing found plenty of supermarket chicken without any
detectable arsenic. Birds sold under organic labels can¹t legally be given
arsenic. For other chicken, your best bet is to directly ask for some
assurance from the producer, supermarket or restaurant that¹s selling it.²

The U.S. Department of Agriculture fails to test for arsenic in the chicken
breasts or thighs that Americans mostly eat, and does not make public
results of its testing of individual brands.

Brand name chicken products tested by IATP included Foster Farms, Trader
Joe¹s, Gold¹n Plump, Perdue, Smart Chicken, and Tyson Foods. Fast food
chains that had chicken products tested included McDonald¹s, Wendy¹s,
Arby¹s, Subway, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Church¹s and Popeyes. Chicken
products were purchased from supermarkets and fast food outlets in Minnesota
and California and were analyzed for arsenic by a private, independent
commercial laboratory.

Some specific findings from the report:
* Arsenic levels vary significantly. The most contaminated brands of
uncooked chicken breasts and thighs on average had arsenic levels around
ten-fold higher than did the brands found to be least contaminated with
arsenic;
* Plenty of the raw chicken tested had no or nearly no detectable
arsenic, including that from some organic companies and most chicken tested
from the world¹s largest chicken producer, Tyson Foods;
* Five packages of Gold¹n Plump livers contained an average of nearly 222
ppb arsenic, the highest of all the chicken samples;
* Prepared chicken thighs from Church¹s on average had 20 times the
arsenic levels of thighs from KFC. The chicken in sandwiches from Jack In
The Box on average had more than five times the arsenic than in Subway
sandwiches.
* An estimated 1.7 to 2.2 million pounds of roxarsone, a single arsenic
feed additive, are given each year to chickens. Much of this ends up in
chicken litter and the broader environment.
Arsenic causes cancer and contributes to other diseases including heart
disease, diabetes and declines in intellectual function. While none of the
chicken products tested had arsenic levels above federal standards, much has
changed since those standards were set. For one thing, Americans eat at
least two and a half times more chicken than they did 40 years ago.
Additionally, the latest science reports that some forms of arsenic are more
toxic than previously thought, and cumulative human exposures to arsenic,
including in chicken meat, are likely higher than previously thought.

³Smarter poultry companies, from the world¹s largest to some of the
smallest, no longer use routine arsenic,² says Dr. Wallinga. ³Europe has
banned the practice. It¹s long past the time to take arsenic out of U.S.
poultry feed.²

The report made several recommendations:
* Consumers should seek out chicken raised without arsenic in its feed,
including that sold as USDA-certified organic chicken, under which the
practice is prohibited;
* Poultry companies should voluntarily avoid the use of arsenic and
inform consumers of such;
* Restaurants, hospitals and schools should ask their poultry suppliers
to stop using arsenic in feed;
* Federal and state regulators should withdraw approval for meat and
poultry producers to add arsenic to our food chain and environment.
The full report can be found at: www.iatp.org

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works globally to promote
resilient family farms, communities and ecosystems through research and
education, science and technology, and advocacy.

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