Organic Consumers Association

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Roxarsone, Inorganic Arsenic, and Other Arsenic Species in Chicken: A U.S.-Based Market Basket Sample

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Factory Farming page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

Background: Arsenic-based drugs are permitted in poultry production. Inorganic arsenic (iAs) causes cancer and maybe other adverse health outcomes. The contribution of chicken consumption to iAs intake, however, is unknown.

Objectives: To characterize arsenic species profile in chicken meat and estimate bladder and lung cancer risk associated with consuming chicken produced with arsenic-based drugs.

Methods: Conventional, conventional antibiotic-free, and organic chicken samples were collected from grocery stores in ten US metropolitan areas from December 2010 to June 2011. 116 raw and 142 cooked samples were tested for total arsenic, and 78 samples ≥10µg/kg dry weight underwent speciation.

Results: Total arsenic geometric mean (GM) in cooked chicken meat samples was 3.0 µg/kg (95% CI: 2.5, 3.6). Among 78 cooked samples that were speciated, iAs concentrations were higher in conventional samples (GM = 1.8 µg/kg; 95% CI: 1.4, 2.3) than antibiotic-free (GM = 0.7 µg/kg; 95% CI: 0.5, 1.0) or organic (GM = 0.6 µg/kg; 95% CI: 0.5, 0.8) samples. Roxarsone was detected in 20 of 40 conventional samples, one of 13 antibiotic-free samples, and none of the 25 organic samples. iAs concentrations in roxarsone-positive samples (GM = 2.3 µg/kg; 95% CI: 1.7, 3.1) were significantly higher than in roxarsone-negative samples (GM = 0.8 µg/kg; 95% CI: 0.7, 1.0). Cooking increased iAs and decreased roxarsone concentrations. Compared to organic chicken consumers, we estimated that conventional chicken consumers would ingest an additional 0.11µg/day iAs (in an 82g serving). Assuming lifetime exposure and a proposed cancer slope factor of 25.7 (mg kgBW-1 day-1)-1, this could result in 3.7 extra lifetime bladder and lung cancer cases per 100,000 exposed-persons.

Conclusions: Conventional chicken meat had higher iAs concentrations than conventional antibiotic-free and organic chicken meat samples. Cessation of arsenical drug use could reduce exposure and the burden of arsenic-related disease in chicken consumers. 

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