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In a major win for public health, the FDA reported yesterday that it would withdraw approval of three of the four arsenicals in animal feed for poultry and hog production. The effective result is that of the 101 drug approvals for arsenic-based animal drugs, 98 will be withdrawn.

This action is the result of a more than seven-year effort by IATP and partners to force the FDA to remove this known carcinogen from animal feed, including a petition filed by IATP and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) in 2009, and the filing of a lawsuit earlier this year by CFS on behalf of IATP and eight other NGOs to force the agency to act on the petition. Better late than never.

In 2006, IATP published a report by David Wallinga, M.D. examining the use of arsenic in animal feed and how that arsenic ends up in chicken meat that consumers eat. Pharmaceutical companies add arsenic to animal feed in order to speed growth and improve pigmentation. The 2006 report estimated that more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens raised for meat were fed arsenic and found detectable arsenic in much of the products we tested from supermarkets and fast food restaurants. We also found that many companies were not using arsenic in their animal feed, confirming our main point that the use of arsenic by these pharmaceutical companies was entirely unnecessary.

New research published earlier this year placed further pressure on the FDA to act. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future and Bloomberg School of Public Health confirmed those findings and went a step further, concluding that chickens likely raised with arsenic-based drugs result in chicken meat that has higher levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen.

Behind the scenes, the industry was already acting. In 2011, Pfizer announced that it has voluntarily agreed to stop selling 3-Nitro, an arsenical known as roxarsone. Last month, after receiving letters from the FDA requesting additional information about the presence of arsenic in animal tissue, two other major feed manufacturers announced they would withdraw their arsenical products from the market. Zoetis requested that the FDA withdraw approval of roxarsone and carbarsone on September 19, and Fleming Laboratories, Inc. requested that FDA withdrawal approval of arsanilic acid on September 26.

The FDA has been slow to act on arsenic and a number of other practices by the pharmaceutical and animal feed industry. including the overuse of antibiotics in animal production, which is contributing to the rising risk to humans of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Let’s hope yesterday’s action on arsenic is a first step toward further action to address public health risks associated with animal feed. 

Read the press release.