Ummm, Arsenic

Here’s the good news: Maryland is set to ban the use of arsenic-based drugs in chicken feed–which are used to combat a gut-eating parasite, and (apparently this is also viewed as a plus) burst small blood vessels which makes the meat look pinker and more appealing.

Here’s the bad news: Um, there’s been a form of arsenic in your chicken since 1944, and suddenly the FDA, Pfizer and health experts think that might not be such a good thing. And despite this somewhat dilatory change of heart, many states and growers will continue to use arsenic-based feed because, well, they’ll make more money doing it:

Inorganic arsenic has been linked to various human ailments, including neurological deficits in children, said Keeve E. Nachman, director of the Farming for the Future program at the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future.

Pfizer, which distributes the drug, agreed to voluntarily suspend its sales after consulting with FDA officials following the study. But growers that stockpiled supplies continue to use it.

Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the House version of the legislation, said the General Assembly was concerned about the levels of arsenic in chicken; about the 30,000 pounds of arsenic added each year to the soil in fertilizer and manure, mostly on the Eastern Shore; and about arsenic washed by heavy rains into rivers and streams that flow to the Chesapeake Bay.

Just one more grotesque insight into the astounding and unappealing practices which constitute our meat production industry. But, never mind, have at those chicken nuggets, friend. They’re cheap and they taste good, right?

Antibiotics And Animals

This could be significant: a federal court has ordered the FDA to follow-through on a 35-year old proposal to stop pumping farm animals full of antibiotics:

A federal court on Thursday ordered the FDA to follow through on a 35-year-old proposal that would have banned the use of certain antibiotics in animal feed because the agency was concerned that these drugs were overused in livestock and helped develop drug-resistant bacteria that can infect people.

The concern is that some antibiotics given to treat illnesses in people are widely used on animals to promote disease prevention and weight gain, as well as compensate for crowded conditions on ranches and farms. The prevalence of those antibiotics in livestock has been linked in several studies to the creation of drug-resistant “superbugs” that can spread to humans who work with or eat the animals.

Excessive antibiotic use to prevent disease in factory farm animals is not only a major threat to human health, it also allows industrial farming operations to crowd large numbers of animals together. Restricting antibiotic use could (this is just the first step toward a ban and agribusiness has a lot of lobbying power) push industrial farms to do more to avoid crowding and conditions that lead to diseased animals, because diseased animals hurt the bottom line.

Put aside the fact that a potential ban is being motivated mainly by concerns over human health, not animal welfare (a reminder of the self-interested way in which humans view the world and its animals). This would be a step in the right direction for animal welfare, as long as it led to some changes in industrial farming practices, or even made such practices less feasible.