Arsenic in chicken, or just feathers?
April 6th, 2012
07:46 PM ET

Arsenic in chicken, or just feathers?

Is there "Arsenic in Our Chicken?" That's the title of a recent article by New York times columnist Nicholas Kristof that has caused an online feeding frenzy, so to speak.

The answer is yes - sort of. The claim of arsenic appears largely based on a study co-authored by Keeve E. Nachman in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

The study found levels of arsenic in feather meal, which is made from chicken feathers and used as feed for poultry, hogs and fish, among other things.

It turns out there are different kinds of arsenic, not all of which are considered poisonous. And, as the study's authors themselves point out in their paper, "There’s no evidence that such low levels of arsenic harm either chickens or the people eating them."

The National Chicken Council responded in a statement that "chickens in the United States produced for meat are not given 'arsenic' as an additive in chicken feed, or any of the other compounds mentioned in this study."

However, the council admits that some feed used to contain a product called Roxarsone, which is a molecule that includes organic arsenic, not the inorganic type that is considered a poison. The product was removed from market last year and is no longer used in raising U.S. chickens, according to the council.

It's not surprising to find arsenic on bird feathers because organic arsenic is naturally present in the air, soil and water, they said, adding that the testing methods used in the study are extremely sensitive and can detect a chemical or compound that hasn't been used in years, or was never used.

So why all the hullabaloo? Most likely because arsenic, like the ammonia-infused pink slime recently exposed in school and grocery store hamburger meat, does not sound like something we'd like to eat. And because arsenic is something most often associated with poison.

But every substance is poisonous in the right dose – even water.

Read: Arsenic levels in apple and grape juice

"It's a question of concentration," said Tom Neuhaus, professor emeritus of food science at Cal Poly's Food Science and Nutrition Department.

Though Neuhaus is highly critical of mainstream chicken-farming practices,  he is wary of condemning them on the basis of safe levels of arsenic found in feather meal.
"There's arsenic in chocolate and there's arsenic in every every breath of air you breathe, in every drop of water you drink," said Neuhaus who teaches about chocolate among other things at Cal Poly.
"It's not like cesium-137 (a deadly radioactive isotope) - you really don't want to have a single atom."
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Filed under: Food Safety • Toxic America

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Barrier with wooden Base

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    April 7, 2012 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cpc65

      I think you meant to take that left turn in Albuquerque.

      April 9, 2012 at 17:37 | Report abuse |
  2. Well

    considering all the other cr4p we eat...industrial food...why are we "shocked"

    Chicken meat goes though chemical baths beef is not any better.

    April 9, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. allenwoll


    April 9, 2012 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Wastrel

    Do not criticize, just accept it. It won't hurt you.

    April 9, 2012 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wastrel

      This article is unscientific and tells lies.

      April 9, 2012 at 16:37 | Report abuse |
  5. allenwoll

    Interesting : Comments are being censored ! ! !

    April 9, 2012 at 16:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CC

      Maybe it's just you.

      April 10, 2012 at 08:35 | Report abuse |
  6. Wastrel

    The word "fact" is being censored.

    April 9, 2012 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Wastrel

    OK, it isn't. The word "poison" is being censored.

    April 9, 2012 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wastrel

      Nope, not that one either. I beats me.

      April 9, 2012 at 17:21 | Report abuse |
  8. cpc65

    Never liked chicken. Now if it's in PB&J and Chef Boyardee canned pasta I'm a gonner!

    April 9, 2012 at 17:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. agrippina

    Hm... maybe we shouldn't be feeding chickens their own feathers as part of their diet... just sayin'.

    April 9, 2012 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FearlessFarmFrau

      chickens will VOLUNTARILY eat the smaller feathers that are shed or moulted. They reuse what protein they can from them. Please, will someone actually TALK to someone who raises chickens on a non-factory scale?

      June 21, 2012 at 17:05 | Report abuse |
  10. eroteme

    Keeve, you accomplished most likely what you needed, your name in today's news. However, I would suggest you and your co-authoring partner let this one go, maybe the two of you can come up with a new 'study' that has more merit than this one.

    April 9, 2012 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Fiona

    Chicken feathers do not belong in feed. They are nothing but waste being used as extenders. They are not digestible, so any small amount of keitinos protein they may contain is excreted. If your Pete's feed has "chicken byproduct" listed (or "chicken digest", which is the waste-filled digestive system), find a better brand.

    April 9, 2012 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daniel

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  12. lynne

    I honestly cannot fantom just how idiotic the posts are on this topic.

    Um... it about your health, but miss that point – you all did BIG TIME!

    Fiona is the only one who has made any sense.

    I raise chickens for their eggs – period.

    They go outside during the day and come into the coop at night to be protected from predators.

    Unless you know what what food choices you have to make for healthy hens and eggs...

    I suggest you stop posting ignorant comments.

    April 9, 2012 at 22:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marcella

      lynne – you can't "fantom" the idiotic posts on this topic?

      Fantom this: Stop. Go look up both "fantom" and "fathom", and then stop making suggestions.

      April 9, 2012 at 23:04 | Report abuse |
  13. Djabacus

    Does anyone else find it strange that Chickens are eating chicken feathers? Gee, what could be wrong with that?

    April 10, 2012 at 08:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FearlessFarmFrau

      ummm, I keep chickens. I don't feed them feathers, but if they see a feather on the ground, they'll eat it. It's part of their protein requirement, in addition to bugs, worms, etc.

      June 21, 2012 at 17:01 | Report abuse |
  14. Todd in DC

    I stick with organic chickens in low stress environment. Any toxins those birds contain are naturally occuring and in low levels.

    Factory farm chickens have higher levels of toxins because they are kept in tiny cages with feed that is mixed with feathers, feces, and dead (rejected) chickens.

    Unfortunately, organic chickens is more expensive than factory chickens, so many people simply can only afford the factory ones.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FearlessFarmFrau

      and even those "organic" chickens in a "low stress environment" are usually raised just like factory chickens with slightly different feed. Unless you're buying from a local farmer and have been to visit the farm, I'd steer clear.

      June 21, 2012 at 17:03 | Report abuse |
  15. Benedict ntekor

    It is sad to know all these toxins are in our food. Even when you try to eat healthy and exercise , drinking apple juice and eating chicken is still a danger to our health. Even fruits and veggies have listeria an ecoli contamination and recalls.

    April 10, 2012 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. rebecca strickland

    this is gross and really sad to know about and i think that people are stupid for putting this stuff in the chicken

    April 10, 2012 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. mmi16

    Don't eat anything that has the potential to harm you....and say hello to your casket from starvation!

    April 11, 2012 at 01:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Flor

    I never used to think about label like organic and free range I just asusmed they were more healthy. Until my 80-year old dad one day informed me to my horror I've been reading about the free-range label. Apparently, you can call a chicken free range if their wire cage opens up onto a 2 x2 gravel or concrete space. And it doesn't matter what they feed them or if they give them drugs or hormones to call them free-range. Doesn't sound very free range to me. You're best off growing your own food. I also found out a few years ago while working with environmental engineers that Energy Star classification is more about buying the use of the name than anything else. Sad.

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