The FDA said Wednesday that a new study developed by the agency shows that an ingredient in chicken feed that contains arsenic, called Roxarsone, may make its way into parts of the bird that are eaten. Previous studies have indicated that the arsenic was eliminated with chicken waste.
Pfizer Inc., which makes the feed ingredient, said Wednesday that it will pull it off the market in the United States. FDA said it would be banned because it is a carcinogen.
Many poultry producers have already stopped feeding their birds the ingredient, which was used to kill parasites and promote growth.
The FDA said that people should not stop eating chicken that may have been treated with the drug. Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, said the study raised "concerns of a very low but completely avoidable exposure to a carcinogen."
Pfizer said in a statement that its subsidiary, Alpharma LLC, is suspending sales next month in response to the FDA findings. The company said it is not withdrawing the ingredient immediately so producers have time to transition their birds off the drug.
In a study of 100 chickens, the FDA found that chickens that had eaten the Roxarsone had higher levels of inorganic arsenic - as opposed to organic arsenic, which is naturally occurring - in their livers than chickens which had not eaten the Roxarsone. Inorganic arsenic is more toxic than the naturally occurring form.
Roxarsone has long been a concern for environmental groups worried about its presence in chicken waste and the resulting effects on human health in areas with high chicken production. Maryland state lawmakers have attempted to force a ban in that state, saying the arsenic ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.