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1 year ago
“Should I Worry About Arsenic in Chicken?”

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When you eat a grilled chicken sandwich, you expect it to pack a lot of protein and some fat. But recent research suggests it might have another, more sinister ingredient: Conventional chicken may contain inorganic arsenic, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins University.

Researchers bought chicken from grocery stores in 10 different U.S. cities and tested each of the samples for roxarsone, a drug sometimes added to chicken feed to encourage weight gain. Why? Previous research suggest that it may degrade into toxic inorganic arsenic during cooking. (Arsenic also occurs naturally in water, air, soil, and food, but is less toxic when it's organic.)

Roxarsone was detected in 20 of the 40 conventional samples and none of the 25 USDA-certified organic samples—which might help explain why the conventional chicken contained about four times the inorganic arsenic of the organic chicken.

Scary, right? Well, not exactly. The cooked conventional chicken contained about two parts per billion of inorganic arsenic, while the cooked organic chicken contained about half a part per billion—and both levels are way, way under the FDA standard that allows for 500 parts per billion. "I don't think there is any reason to limit chicken consumption on the basis of this study," says Melina Jampolis, MD, an internist and board certified physician nutrition specialist based in Los Angeles.

In fact, lead researcher Keeve Nachman, PhD, director of the Center for a Livable Future’s Farming for the Future program at Johns Hopkins University, says the study was conducted to encourage the FDA to ban the use of roxarsone and the similar animal drug nitarsone—not to discourage consumers from eating chicken.

While exposure to this amount of inorganic arsenic could, over time, very slightly increase the risk of diseases like lung and bladder cancer, the levels found in the chicken tested were so small that they're unlikely to cause problems, says Jampolis. What's more, the poultry used in the study was purchased before July 2011, when the drug company Alpharma voluntarily suspended sales of roxarsone. So while the FDA has not gone as far as to ban the use of roxarsone, it's also not in any of the poultry you'd buy today. Nachman and Jampolis say they hope that this study encourages the FDA to keep potentially detrimental animal drugs off the market.

The verdict: There's definitely no need to stop eating chicken or limit your consumption—only very small amounts of inorganic arsenic were found in the samples tested, and the likely cause of it is no longer being consumed by chicken.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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