The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week calling for a halt to the use of arsenic-containing compounds in animal feed.

According to CFS and IATP, the additives are commonly used in the production of poultry to increase weight gain and create the appearance of a healthy color in meat from chickens, turkeys and hogs. 

“The fact that arsenic–a known and powerful carcinogen–in these feed additives leads to arsenic residue in chicken is now well known,” said the CFS’s executive director Andrew Kimbrell. “FDA’s failure to investigate the mounting evidence that these compounds are unsafe is a breach of the public trust, and the use of arsenic-containing compounds in food animal production is a needless and dangerous risk to human health.”

In late September, U.S. Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) introduced legislation to ban a commonly used arsenic compound in animal feed. The Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2009 would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to ban roxarsone, an arsenical antimicrobial drug used to ward off infection in animal production facilities.

The CFS and IATP petition calls for a more comprehensive ban, one that would include Arsanilic acid, Nitarsone, and Carbarsone, all commonly used compounds that contain arsenicals.

“Arsenic can be poisonous. It’s use in animal feed, therefore is unnecessarily risky and has not been shown to be safe given the latest science,” said David Wallinga, M.D. of IATP. “To best protect public health, all avoidable exposures to arsenic should be eliminated. FDA can and should act.”

Many in the animal production industry, however, insist that the additives are a safe and necessary tool for producing safe meat.

“The use of roxarsone prevents the disease coccidiosis in poultry. In so doing, it enhances animal welfare, increases sustainability of production and can lead to improved food safety,” John E. Starkey, president of the U.S Poultry & Egg Association told Food Safety News in September.

“There are well established and well respected procedures in place at FDA to ensure the safety and efficacy of the use of products such as roxarsone in animal feeds,” added Starkey.