Why There is Arsenic in Rice and Chicken

Dr. Michael Greger, MD, has been documenting the disturbing reality of arsenic contents in rice and chicken, as a result of arsenic-ridden drugs in the chicken feeds. Unfortunately, industrial pollutants accumulate up the food chain—and such contaminants get into the earth, air and water—resulting in arsenic-laden grain.

Plant-based diets are lower in arsenic because they are lower on the food chain, but not when consuming the rice, apparently.

California has the lowest amounts of arsenic in rice because its farming practices do not use arsenic-containing pesticides, unlike farms in Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. Such arsenical compounds have been used in cotton fields for over 100 years—dating as far back as the early 20th Century.

Moreover, it’s estimated that up to 250,000 kg of arsenic may be given to chicken feeds in the U.S. The common drug used is Roxarsone.

Because the arsenic is given to chickens, which then excrete waste onto the ground, the fertilizer contains arsenic. That is why arsenic is found in the soil, which of course grow our grains. The arsenic is also water-soluble, which explains why arsenic levels are found in groundwater. Research since the 1970s have concluded that foods containing the highest levels of arsenic are chicken and rice.

The arsenic levels in chicken can be three-times the amount of that in other meats. Because organic arsenic is used in the feeds, the deceptive claim is that they are safe; but once the chicken is cooked, the arsenic composition changes to that of the harmful variety.

Subsequently, the Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2009 was introduced into Congress, only to be reintroduced two years later by the Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2011.

It wasn’t over yet. In 2013, nine food safety, agriculture, public health and environmental groups joined in a lawsuit against the FDA, compelling them to respond to the earlier petition.

Then, by December 31, 2015, the FDA withdrew applications for nitarsone, the last remaining arsenic-based drug used for animal feed in the U.S. market. Interestingly, the lack of arsenic drugs in such feeds result in a drawback for the chicken industry—less ‘pinkish’ color in the chicken meat.

Bottom line: although arsenic-based drugs have been banned by the FDA since 2015, the soil is replete with this toxic poison—and will be for a while. In fact, because rice crops do not grow as well in arsenic-containing soil, they have developed arsenic-resistant strains. So, while the rice can effectively grow in toxin-laden soil, what about the arsenic that gets into our bodies?

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Image Credit: By Zeynel Cebeci (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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