Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

Arkansas rice growers don’t mess around! They’ve gone for the jugular asking the Circuit Court for the Southern District of Arkansas for a jury trial to decide the merits of their claim that chicken industry practices are responsible for high levels of arsenic being detected in their crops.

The lawsuit follows on the heels of Consumer Reports, November Issue, revealing data that white rice grown in Arkansas as well as Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas may contain arsenic levels that are too high. Named in the lawsuit are Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, George’s Farm, George’s Processing, George’s Inc., and Peterson Farms Inc. along with drug company czar, Pfizer.

The short version of the story is that Pfizer is the drug dealer, selling arsenic compounds such as 3-Nitro to the drug using poultry companies!
It’s a well-known fact that for decade’s arsenic has been fed to chickens raised in industrial poultry production.

Industry addiction to arsenic comes from the need to feed for rapid weight growth and control intestinal parasites, coccidiosis (cocci). Although both arsenic and cocci are naturally occurring in the environment in small amounts, the excessive levels in this case are said to be a result of heavily concentrated industrial chicken production.

Normally, cocci can be controlled through pasture management and rotational grazing of farm animals. When animals are raised in a totally confined space year after year cocci can’t be controlled through allowing that space to “rest”. As an intestinal parasite cocci becomes a problem. Chickens don’t convert feed to pounds of meat efficiently and that means slower growth and higher production costs. Enter arsenic.

The arsenical compounds added to chicken feed are consumed by the chicken and passes through the animal into its waste. That waste is then spread on farm fields as fertilizer for crops. Ironically, chicken manure has been touted as an asset by some industry leaders because of its value as a fertilizer. Arsenic is a heavy metal and doesn’t break down in the environment. Where is the value in a continual buildup of arsenic in farm fields and the environment?

Because chicken companies control every aspect of chicken production and retain title of the chickens, feed, and medications – the buck stops there. Known as “vertical integration”, chicken companies contract with farms to “raise” the chickens to a marketable age. Feed that those chickens eat is formulated, mixed, and delivered to contract farms by the companies. Under contract terms the farmers must use the feed formula delivered as dictated by the company.

The lawsuit should come as no surprise. Recent years have seen mounting evidence of residual arsenic at levels higher than normal from concentrated chicken production. The state of Maryland went so far as to ban the use of one arsenical, Roxarsone, in chicken feed this past year. Roxarsone is a product acquired by Pfizer in its acquisition of Alpharma and was voluntarily withdrawn from the market by Pfizer. Good idea!

On the flip side – Tyson denies any wrong doing. According to Food Safety News, spokesperson for Tyson, Gary Mickelson, says that the company is still reviewing the lawsuit and that “it appears to be an example of creative lawyers trying to use frivolous litigation to extract money from companies that have done nothing wrong”…… Really, are you kidding me? One of my Facebook friends wondered if this was the best they (Tyson) could come up with.

In my last blog post, Food to Die For, I said that “I for one am sick and tired of continually hearing about evidence of arsenic in our food supply and it’s not because the evidence is uncovered and keeps mounting”. I’m also sick and tired of hearing industry denials of any wrong doing. It’s like a bunch of little kids who get into trouble and they all say “I didn’t do it”. I say “man up and own it”!

While poultry companies have reaped the benefits (dollars) of the use of arsenic they were also turning a blind eye to the consequences of their actions. They straight up just didn’t care. It brings to mind a discussion that I had with an industry trade union representative about contract growers having a right to know that arsenic was in the company feed and what they were being exposed to. The reply from this joker was “did you ask”. Another one of those creative and frivolous industry answers!

Some poultry companies are claiming that they don’t feed their chickens any additives containing arsenic. While that may be true at the present time, all of the arsenic that they used in the past hasn’t magically disappeared. My husband has often remarked that “we should put a chain link fence around the Delmarva Peninsula, and call it a toxic waste dump” because of all “the company toxic waste from their chickens that is dumped on our farm fields”. No one knows how much toxicity is in our soil and required government soil testing is only for nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium levels. It is not mentioned or recommended that soil testing should be done for heavy metals or toxic waste such as arsenic.

Chicken feed formulas are considered to be a “trade secret” and therefore companies don’t have to reveal what is in their feed. That being the case, secretive testing of feed would have to be done for anyone to get an idea of what is actually being fed to chickens, and of course that could be considered to be a “theft” because the chicken companies own the feed. Creative government regulations and laws make it impossible to verify any claims by chicken companies about what is or isn’t being fed to their chickens.

History will repeat its self! In the end I can imagine that the battery of defense lawyers will come up with some fancy foot work and legal maneuvering to either keep this lawsuit going for many years to come or go for a settlement which will be gag ordered! The arsenic will remain in our soil and we will more than likely read or hear about future discoveries of arsenic in our food supply.

Comments on: "The Makings of A Toxic Waste Dump" (5)

  1. Cape Fear Riverkeeper said:

    Great piece. CAFOs are the root of so many environmental and human health problems-rice is just the latest connection. In NC poultry farms are virtually unregulated and the waste generated by these factory farms is ending up in our rivers. Consumers can change the way CAFOs operate with their decisions at the supermarket. Buy free-range/organic chickens. Boycott producers (like those named above) that intentionally threaten our health and the environment in the name of ever bigger corporate profits.


  2. Peter M said:

    Couldn’t agree more, Cape Fear Riverkeeper…


  3. Why are these people allowed to get away with what they are doing to our environment and our food? They should have to put money into a superfund for cleanup of the farm land they have ruined since it is reasonable to assume that any farm land fertilized with industrial chicken manure is tainted with arsenic.


  4. Hi, Cape Fear River Watch would like permission to post this article on our blog? We love it! Would that be ok? With credit to you of course!


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