Maryland is now the first state in the nation to officially ban Roxarsone, a product added to chicken feed to prevent disease and produce fatter chickens. Senate Bill 207/ House Bill 167 was one of many bills passed over the weekend as the Maryland General Assembly rushed to complete work by the end of the 90-day session at midnight on Monday.

“We’ve been adding about 30,000 pounds of arsenic to both our environment and our food supply every year since 1946, when the drug was approved,” said Del. Tom Hucker (D-Md.) of District 20, who sponsored the house version of the bill.

“Arsenic is a terribly deadly substance which only a few micrograms of which can give you cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.” The use of Roxarsone was suspended last July when the FDA conducted a study on 100 broiler chickens.

The report, released last February, shows that when fed products with food grade arsenic, chickens retain a small portion of the toxin in the liver, producing inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen harmful to humans. Much of the substance is expelled in chicken waste, which in turn creates another problem for the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries, and farmlands of Maryland’s Eastern Shore that use chicken manure as fertilizer. “Arsenic laced rain water washes off into the bay. When it’s not raining, arsenic binds to the soil and then builds up in the soil.

We’ve found that some of the fields in Maryland are beyond remediation. They can’t be improved in any way,” said Del. Hucker. Though some might conclude that consuming meat from a chicken with a carcinogen in its liver could potentially lead to human deaths, Curtis Allen, a spokesperson for the FDA says that reasoning would be “jumping to conclusions” because that “implies it happens right away.”

The final bill recommended by the senate was a watered-down version of what was originally proposed by members of the House, but an agreement was made between the two chambers. Changes made to the bill at the Senate level included the addition of a clause that lifts the ban should the product later be found safe for humans and the environment. The legislation was also amended to allow the use of histostat, another drug containing arsenic and not much different from Roxarsone, used to treat disease in turkeys.

“The agency continues to work with the drug sponsor to fully investigate the issue and, as part of this effort, FDA is conducting some additional confirmatory testing to address some remaining scientific questions.” said Gloria Sánchez-Contreras, a bilingual public affairs specialist for the FDA. “The suspension of sales will remain in effect as this work is completed.” Those in opposition to the ban say the legislation will cost Marylander’s farm industry jobs, as well as discourage investment in the industry.

According to reports published by the DelMarva Poultry Industry, which monitors the industry in the states of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, proceeds made from the broiler chicken in Maryland accounted for nearly 40 percent of all income made from cash farms. In 2009, the farms that raise broiler chickens netted about $640,303,000, making it 9th in the country for the payout connected with the broiler chicken industry within the agricultural sector. The state ranks 10th for the overall production of broiler chickens in the state, processing more than 1.4 billion pounds of broiler chicken every year. 

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer