The Washington Post

Md. lawmakers spotlight chicken drug’s being pulled from market amid arsenic worries

Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery) on the opening day of the 2011 legislative session. (Photo by Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery), who has tried for two years to ban such products in Maryland, applauded the move by a Pfizer subsidiary to suspend sales of the drug roxarsone — but said it wasn’t enough.

“It’s high time that federal and state lawmakers do the right thing and permanently ban deadly chemicals like roxarsone and arsenic to protect our environment and our families,” he said in a statement, in which he blamed the failure of such a bill in his state “on lobbyists from Maryland’s powerful poultry industry.”

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), who has unsuccessfully championed similar legislation in his chamber, also weighed in with a news release about the company’s decision, which followed a U.S. Food and Drug Administration study of the drug, which has been given to chickens since the 1940s to protect them from a parasitic disease and help them gain weight.

“Not only have I been concerned about people ingesting arsenic through chicken meat, but I have been equally concerned about the arsenic entering the Chesapeake Bay and our wells, streams via chicken waste and farm run-off,” Pinsky said, calling the drug “poison.”

Pinsky also noted in his statement that, in the wake of the study, FDA officials have “stressed that there is no imminent health risk from eating the liver of chickens who ingested arsenic in their feed.” But, Pinsky said: “Chronic exposure to arsenic has been shown to increase the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological deficits and other health problems.”

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), who is gearing up to run for governor in 2014, did not let the moment pass either.

In a statement later Wednesday afternoon, Gansler recounted that in 2008, he led a group of attorneys general across the country who called upon the FDA to ban the use of roxarsone and other arsenic additives in poultry feed.

“I have been fighting to bring this issue to the attention of state and federal regulators for years,” Gansler said, “and I am deeply gratified that the FDA has now found a way to work with industry to take arsenic additives in poultry feed off the market.”

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.


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