ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Maryland state Senate voted to ban roxarsone, a chicken feed additive that contains arsenic, and any other additive that contains arsenic.

The legislation, SB207, bans the sale of any additive that contains arsenic, but names roxarsone specifically. Roxarsone is an organic arsenic-based drug that was manufactured by Alpharma LLC, a subsidiary of Pfizer Inc. Used in combination with other drugs, the chemical helps birds fight parasitic disease such as coccidiosis which infects the intestinal tracts in poultry and can lead to death. Roxarsone was also approved for weight gain, improved pigmentation in chickens and feed efficiency, according to the Food and Drug Adminstration.

Supporters of the bill said the additive contaminates meat and chicken waste, which in turn contaminates the Chesapeake Bay. The bill’s opponents say it is unnecessary legislation because Pfizer Inc. suspended sales of the chemical.

The bill was amended to end the ban on roxarsone should the FDA determine the chemical is safe.
The National Chicken Council defended the wholesomeness of chickens produced in the US in light of the roxarsone issue and after the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future study suggested that a class of antibiotics banned from poultry production is still in use.

“Chickens in the US produced for meat are not given ‘arsenic’ as an additive in chicken feed, or any of the other compounds mentioned in this study,” the NCC said in a statement. “Some flocks used to be given feed that contained a product called roxarsone, which is a molecule that includes organic arsenic – not the inorganic, trivalent form that is considered a poison. This product was removed from the market last year, it is no longer manufactured and it is no longer used in raising chickens in the US.

“Regardless, as the study’s authors point out: ‘There’s no evidence that such low levels of arsenic harm either chickens or the people eating them,’” NCC said.

As for the antibiotics claims made in the study, NCC said antibiotics were used sparingly in chicken production, and only approved antibiotics are used.

“A majority of the antibiotics used to treat and prevent disease in chickens are not used in human medicine meaning the threat of creating resistance in humans is essentially reduced to zero,” NCC said.