FDA Withdraws 98 of 101 Arsenic-Based Animal Drug Approvals After Petitition Filed by Health Care Without Harm, Others

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Agency Responds to Petition Brought by Health Care Without Harm and Eight Other Health and Environmental Groups

In a letter responding to a petition brought by nine major health and environmental organizations, including Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), on September 30, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will withdraw 98 of 101 approvals given to arsenic-based animal drugs. This action will remove three of the four arsenic-containing drugs used in the production of poultry and hogs. FDA’s decision comes almost four years after a petition was filed by the Institute for Agriculture Trade and Policy and the Center for Food Safety asking that the agency withdraw its approval of the drugs.

“This move by the FDA is an important validation to the work being done in the health care sector to bring attention to the public and environmental health effects of arsenic-containing food additives in poultry production,” said Emma Sirois, Co-Chair of HCWH’s Healthy Food in Health Care Program. HCWH joined the petition to represent the health care sector’s concern for public health associated with the practice of feeding arsenic-based drugs to food animals. “As large purchasers of food, hospitals in HCWH’s network have been asking their suppliers to identify poultry grown without these drugs – sending a strong signal to the market to change this production practice in support of public health.”

Arsenic-based drugs are used in animal agriculture because they speed weight gain and provide enhanced color to poultry meat. A 2006 IATP study showed that 70 percent of US-produced chickens are fed these drugs. In a letter explaining its decision, the FDA cited a recent study, including one by petitioner Center for a Livable Future, that challenged previous assumptions of safety of these drugs in humans consuming meat of animals raised using them. In particular, concern arose over the ability of organic arsenic to transform into inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, in the environment or animal tissue.

“We continue to see unnecessary use in farmed animals of chemicals that pose a threat to public and environmental health,” stated Ted Schettler, MD, Science Advisor to Health Care Without Harm. “Arsenic clearly has no place in the meat of animals intended for human consumption. The nation’s regulators need to act more swiftly to investigate and remove potentially harmful compounds from use in animals intended for food.”

FDA has not yet made a ruling on nitarsone, an arsenic-containing compound that is still being used in poultry products. HCWH and the other petitioners will conduct research on how to proceed. Their ultimate goal is for FDA to withdraw approvals for all arsenic-based animal drugs.

“It is incongruent for hospitals to be serving meat or poultry raised with arsenic-based drugs to their patients and staff,” stated Holly Emmons, MPA, RD, LD, Food and Nutrition Services Manager at Union Hospital of Cecil County in Elkton, MD. “Our hospital is very concerned about unnecessary additives used in animal production that may pose harm to public health. We are working with a local farmer that does not use arsenic-based products, and we feel this better serves our population and our mission.” Emmons submitted testimony on behalf of the hospital at a state legislative hearing on this issue last year. As a result of concerns expressed by many health care providers and others, Maryland is the only state in the country to ban all arsenic additives in chicken feed.

HCWH, partnered with the following organizations in this action: Center for Food Safety, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Center for a Livable Future, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Food and Water Watch, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Heath Care without Harm (HCWH) is an international coalition of more than 500 organizations in 53 countries, working to transform the health care sector, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. See http://www.noharm.org. To learn more about HCWH’s Healthy Food in Health Care Program, visit our website at http://www.healthyfoodinhealthcare.org.

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Eileen Secrest
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