An Egalitarian Approach to Depopulation: Arsenic in the Food Supply

Three Arkansas farming operations have filed a class-action lawsuit against Pfizer, Tyson Foods, and three Arkansas poultry producers over arsenic detected in their rice.1

The lawsuit claims the defendants “knew that excessive arsenic in chicken litter used as fertilizer on many rice farms in Arkansas would contaminate the entire U.S. rice crop and infiltrate the general U.S. rice supply, and that public news about such arsenic contamination would result in devastating financial losses to U.S. and Arkansas rice producers.”

Is Contaminated Chicken Litter the Culprit?

The suit comes on the heels of a Consumer Report issued last month, which reported it had found “worrisome” levels of inorganic arsenic in various rice products sold across the U.S. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no real ‘safe’ level of exposure to inorganic arsenic, which is a well-known cancer-causing toxin. Consumer Reports found that white rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas all had higher levels of arsenic than rice samples from other locations, including India, Thailand and California.

As reported by Arkansas Business:2

“…the three Arkansas farming enterprises allege that Pfizer manufactures additives containing arsenic that are then sold to the poultry industry for use in chicken feed. The additives are used to foster the growth of broiler chickens and prevent an intestinal disease in chickens called coccidiosis… The suit says that chicken litter, which contains chicken waste, is used by rice farmers as fertilizer. This litter winds up contaminating the soil and, ultimately, the rice crop.

…The suit seeks class-action status to represent all rice farmers in Arkansas. It seeks both compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at trial.

Gary Mickelson, a Tyson spokesman, said, ‘We’re still reviewing the lawsuit, but will say it appears to be an example of creative lawyers trying to use frivolous litigation to extract money from companies that have done nothing wrong. We will vigorously defend ourselves. None of our chickens are given feed additives containing arsenic.'”

Majority of CAFO Chickens Still Get Arsenic-Laced Chicken Feed

It was only last summer that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a “voluntary suspension” of Pfizer’s arsenic-laced drug Roxarsone, which has been widely used on chicken CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) to control an intestinal parasite that allows the chickens to feed more productively and grow faster. It also makes the chicken meat appear pinker (i.e. “fresher”).

Roxarsone has been used in chicken feed since the 1940s. More than 70 years later, the FDA conducted an analysis that found chickens treated with the drug do in fact have arsenic in their livers – and as a result, manufacturer Pfizer agreed to stop selling the drug (brand name 3-Nitro) in July of last year.

One of the many reasons I’ve long recommended avoiding conventionally raised chicken is because of the potential for it to contain arsenic. Some of the larger chicken producers, including Tyson and Perdue, claim they phased the drug out several years ago. Tyson reportedly quit using arsenic compounds in 2004,3 however, the plaintiffs in this case claim that:4

“…Each Poultry Industry Defendant manufactures its own feed formula to be used by its respective growers/hatchers. Each Poultry Industry Defendant includes (or, as recently as 2011, included) ‘3-Nitro’ Roxarsone to some degree in their formula and, as such, manufactures and designs the feed formula each deems optimal.”

Tyson is one of the Poultry Industry Defendants in this case. Hopefully this trial will unearth the truth about whether or not they’ve actually quit using 3-Nitro… As of 2007, the majority – 70 percent – of the 9 billion broiler chickens produced annually in the United States were still being fed Roxarsone …

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