Banning Roxarsone May Ruffle Some Feathers


The chicken feed additive, Roxarsone, has been used since the 1940s, purportedly to combat parasites and enhance animal growth.  Recently, the additive was found to deposit arsenic in chicken liver, per FDA studies. In spite of this, the FDA has kept Roxarsone on its list of approved additives for food production.

(Click on image to enlarge)


On July, 2011, Pfizer withdrew the drug voluntarily from the market upon discovering that chickens—after ingesting Roxarsone-containing feed stocks—transmit arsenic to consumers and leech it through waste and litter into the environment.  This arsenic exposure is linked to immunologic, neurologic, cancerous, and cardiovascular diseases.

As the nation’s 7th largest poultry producer, Maryland notes steady rises in chicken consumption; with this market power, it can significantly impact this industry by banning arsenic-containing feeds legislatively. To date, however, Maryland has registered nine Roxarsone-containing feeds, and—given the state’s market size—industry groups are pressuring Pfizer to re-market the additive.

Yet Pfizer’s original decision remains. Given that Pfizer prioritizes these safety concerns at a significant opportunity cost from not marketing this product, surely the concern warrants closer attention from the FDA and Maryland’s legislative officials.


To protect the quality of chicken products, consumers, and the environment, the FDA and poultry industry alike must cease all agricultural use of arsenicals. Until then, Maryland must restrict the statewide use, sale and distribution of feed additives—especially those containing arsenicals—and impose significant fines and suspend operating licenses following violations.  Doing otherwise places the public’s health in the way of great harm.


Ruth Brenner, M.D.

Andres Quintero, M.D.

Jade Spurgeon, M.D.

Jennifer Weinberg, M.D.


* Figure adapted from original research article referenced below.

Mean total arsenic concentrations in chicken 1989-2000 and estimated exposures for consumers of chicken. Environ Health Perspect.2004 Jan;112(1):18-21.  Lasky T, Sun W, Kadry A, Hoffman MK. Office of Public Health and Science, Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC, USA.

3 Responses to “Banning Roxarsone May Ruffle Some Feathers”

  1. guerrillagardener Says:

    Interesting post! I knew that there was limited regulations on what could be feed to animals in CAFOs. The poultry industry has a large lobbying contingent that would definitely attempt to interfere the withdrawal of Roxarsone if it interferes with its production and profit. Perhaps engaging the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance on the Eastern Shore would be beneficial for the enforcement and advocacy to ban Roxarsone.

  2. skclarke821 Says:

    I find it sad that the FDA still approved Roxarsone despite research findings to the contrary. It reminds me of what one of my Public Health Practice’s guest lecturers said – that the FDA and other researchers continue to find that putting antibiotics and growth hormones into our meat is a bad idea, but that the FDA has no real power to stop it. It’s ridiculous how much power lobbying groups have.

  3. evansmolly Says:

    This was a very eye opening post. I didn’t realize there was this additive in chicken feed. We have chickens in our backyard and give them feed in addition to some compost. Now I’m concerned that their feces could be leaching arsenic into our backyard. I will have to look at the ingredients on the feed bag but I’m hoping it is not in there given the fact that we buy feed for small scale family farms. Maybe it isn’t a big problem on the small scale but massive chicken farm operations would have the potential to leach a potentially very toxic amount of arsenic into the environment.

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