Proponents and advocates of banning the use of arsenic in poultry feed in Maryland are celebrating a hard won victory. On May 22, 2012, Maryland Governor, Martin O’Malley, signed into law, legislation banning arsenic in poultry feed. The bill goes into effect January 23, 2013. Maryland is the first state in the country to pass such a bill.
The legislation is a hard won victory for Environmental, Public Health, and Food Safety advocates and three long years of work is worth a celebration. Organizations such as Food and Water Watch, a Washington DC based non-profit appear to have their sights set on other states as well.
The use of arsenic in poultry feed has been a practice since the late 1940’s. Its use was intended for killing coccidiosis an intestinal parasite found in chickens. Referred to as “cocci” in the poultry industry the parasite reproduces in the intestinal tract of chickens and interrupts positive feed conversions raising the cost of production. Side benefits discovered by industry were faster weight gain (growth promoter) and added color. Arsenicals became more important for faster growth rather than killing intestinal parasites.
Mostly unknown to the outside world, arsenic is a routine feed additive for industrially produced chickens no matter if cocci is present or not or diagnosed by a veterinarian. Thinking back to my days of industrial chicken production there was a time when the higher ups of the company we contracted with told us we had a cocci problem. This went on for several months until we asked for a visit from the company vet. After having that visit and the company vet telling us we didn’t have a cocci problem feed conversion issues disappeared. Arsenic in the feed delivered by the company didn’t disappear as it continued to arrive in the company feed.
Banning the use of arsenic in poultry feed and specifically mentioning Roxarsone, is a great first step. I worry about this piece of legislation because there are ways around it. Loopholes!
Arsenicals are available in liquid form and can be delivered through the drinking water. Since the Maryland legislation specifies “feed”, industry in its infinite wisdom could use water administration of arsenic.
The legislation also specifies “commercial feed” and one wonders what the definition is for those words. Theoretically, there is no buying or selling of feed within the relationship between a poultry company and the farmers it contracts with. Although feed usage is used in the complicated formula administered by the company to pay farmers at the end of the flock there are no actual cash transactions when the company delivers feed to the farm. Technically, the company owns the feed.
Secondly, feed formulation is a “trade secret” and is proprietary information of the company. How will any government agency have authority to test feed ingredients? Claiming TOP SECRET will be a way out for poultry companies.
I have to applaud Maryland legislators in their efforts. However after the applause dies down, there are issues left in the dust.
I was particularly surprised with concerns listed over the use of arsenic and concerns excluded. The law specifies that it will be “abrogated and of no further force and effect if a specific arsenical additive receives approval by the US Food and Drug Administration if it includes evaluation of human food safety, impact on the environment, safety to animals, effectiveness of drug for its intended use, and chemistry and manufacturing procedures”.
Nowhere is there any mention of the effects on the farmers who are forced to be exposed to arsenic on a daily basis having no choice or say in what the company delivers to the farm. I gave testimony before the Maryland Senate committee hearing asking legislators to pass the bill for the sake of the farmer who has no choice in the matter. Quite frankly, I don’t believe that legislators are informed or had delved into the company/farmer contract relationship or how that system works.
The tangled web of how the poultry industry operates is nearly impossible to figure out unless one has operated within it. I look for future battles over the current law and judiciary proceedings over the loopholes that the Einstein’s within the poultry industry will use.