FDA Admits Chicken Meat Contains Arsenic – Truth! & Outdated!

FDA Admits Chicken Meat Contains Arsenic – Truth! & Outdated!

Summary of eRumor:  

The FDA has admitted that most chicken meat sold in the U.S. contains cancer-causing arsenic.

The Truth:


This claim was mostly true in 2011, but it has been resolved.

In 2011, the FDA carried out a study on the effect an animal drug called Roxarson, or 3-Nitro, had on chicken meat. The FDA allowed poultry producers to use the drug to prevent parasitic diseases in chickens, to promote weight gain, and to improve the color of chicken meat. 

The FDA studied 100 boiler chickens to determine whether the use of 3-Nitro led to elevated levels of arsenic in chicken meat. According to the study, higher levels of inorganic arsenic were found in the livers of chickens treated with 3-Nitro than in chickens that were not treated:

Roxarsone and its metabolites were present in liver tissues from chicks fed roxarsone-medicated feed. The incurred levels of inorganic arsenic species were highly variable in treated chicks but appeared to be significantly greater than that in the untreated control birds. Withdrawal of the medicated feed led to a time-dependent decrease in various arsenic species, many of which were unidentified. Whether or not these unknowns could pose any toxicological risk will be dependent upon their subsequent identification and testing. 

The FDA first approved 3-Nitro for human consumption in 1944. Bernadette Dunham, the director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, explained the purpose of the FDA’s review of the drug, and the results of the study:

Over the past seven to eight years, published scientific reports indicated that organic arsenic can transform into inorganic arsenic in the environment. These reports caused FDA to question whether the organic arsenic that was present in animal drugs such as Roxarsone would also transform into inorganic arsenic when used in animals. 

We would like to stress that the levels of inorganic arsenic found in chicken livers are very low and represent a very low health risk to people who eat chicken. We would also like to stress that consumers can continue to eat chicken as 3-Nitro is suspended from the market. Furthermore, FDA does not believe there is a need to recall chicken already in commerce. FDA’s findings demonstrate a very low but avoidable public exposure to inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen. 

Then, in June of 2011, Pfizer announced that it had voluntarily suspended the sale of 3-Nitro because of the FDA’s findings, which resolved the issue.

However, the eRumor resurfaced as breaking news in early 2015. An outdated report claimed that the FDA had “just” admitted that 70% of chicken meat sold in the U.S. contained arsenic: 

So a few days ago when I turned on the tube and saw the news headlines stating that the FDA has finally confirmed that chicken meat sold in the USA contains arsenic, my head, and stomach, nearly hit the roof. This cancer-causing toxic chemical, that in high doses could kill you, is actually being added to chicken feed on purpose, giving store-bought chicken the illusion of healthy coloring and plump appearance. Shockingly, this is the case with more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens! That is just awful!

But while the eRumor’s claims about 3-Nitro are outdated, there are more arsenic-based animal drugs that are approved for human consumption, the FDA says:

3-Nitro (Roxarsone) was the first arsenic-based product approved for use in animal feed and is currently the most commonly used arsenic-based animal drug. Other arsenic-based drugs that are approved for use in food-producing animals (poultry and swine) include nitarsone, arsanilic acid, and carbarsone. Current data indicate that only the 3-Nitro and nitarsone products are being marketed. These drugs all have forms of organic arsenic–the form of arsenic that is less toxic and not carcinogenic–as their active ingredient.