Arsenic in Your Chicken?

Arsenic is harmful and has been known to cause cancer. Arsenic is an element in the environment that can be found naturally in rocks and soil, water, air, and in plants and animals. When I had seen several articles floating around this week saying that it was in chicken I had to do a little digging. Many times when stories like these surface there is a good explanation behind it or a misunderstanding. I called on Dr. Wallace Berry one of our poultry science professors here at Auburn and asked him for his expertise.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently announced it will remove three arsenic-containing drug types used to treat food animals, including chickens. Altogether, the three drugs were used in formulations as feed additives, the most common being Roxarsone. Many think of Roxarsone as a way to “pump up chicken”, but according to Dr. Berry that is not the case.

Berry says that Roxarsone is made from an arsenic compound and some companies do use it as an anti-coccidial drug in chickens ( not to “plump up” chicken as the media portrays). When I researched coccidia I found that it is an internal parasite that if coccidiosis occurs that it causes diarrhea with weight loss, dehydration, and (rarely) hemorrhaging  Animals who have bad cases may have problems with  anorexia, vomiting, and depression. Death is a potential outcome. It was used to keep animals healthy, farmers go to great lengths to care for their animals and this is why the additive was used.

ImageCoccidia magnified at 400X

According to Berry we use similar arsenical drugs are used in far higher doses to treat heart worms in pets. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element so traces can be found in all living things. Chickens who are given Roxarsone go through a withdrawal period before they are harvested just like with any other drug or antibiotic the animal might have been given. Arsenic is cleared from body tissues rapidly so only very low levels, about like normal background levels can be found in chicken. Berry pointed out that even when people are intentionally poisoned with arsenic, it takes a high continuous dose to kill and arsenic traces are usually only found in hair and nails because so little accumulates.

When it gets down to the “meat” of the matter Berry stated that Roxarsone is being withdrawn, not because it is dangerous, but mostly because it is an old drug that is not very profitable and because of poor public opinion. There are newer anti-parasitic  drugs without arsenic that the public is more comfortable with and that keeps our animals healthy. Do not be alarmed not every poultry company uses Roxarsone, and the ones that do use it don’t use it all the time. It is rotated with other anti-coccidial drugs to prevent the coccidia from developing resistance. Since the three will be no longer used in food thankfully we will not have to worry bout animals suffering from coccidia because a vaccine for it was actually developed at Auburn by Dr. Allen Edgar in 1952! The anti-coccidial drugs are not related to any human antibiotics so there are no worries about antibiotic resistance transferred to human.

So as I get ready to decide on dinner tonight, I am not going to shy away from chicken in the cooler at the grocery. I’m very thankful Dr. Berry was able to answer my questions and I hope if you hear about arsenic you will now feel more informed. Eat More Chicken!

Chipotle You Are Serving More Than Burritos

Oh Chipotle,

I thought you had topped it with your 2011 Super Bowl advertisement featuring Willie Nelson’s “Back to the Start” song, but I was wrong. This morning between classes I watched your new Scarecrow Video.


After painfully watching your three minute video I felt a range of emotions. The feeling that hit me the most wasn’t anger, but sadness.  Erica who must work doing social media for @ChipotleTweets didn’t get it. It appears that she assumed I was sad because of the “bad food” found in the barren grassless, cropless, treeless land the video portrayed, I was sad because this is not at all the way we treat and raise our animals and produce our nation’s food supply. I was also sad because people out there will watch this video and assume that is the way things are.


The ways food production was portrayed in the video is what made me sad, sad because myself and 2.2 million other Americans work so hard grow food for our families and yours and it looks NOTHING like what Chiptole says farming today looks like. I have NEVER seen anyone raise cattle in a metal box with flashing lights.


All the dairy farms I have ever been to do not use such housing for their cattle. I always enjoy seeing Will Gilmer (@GilmerDairy on Twitter) of Sulligent, Alabama’s pictures on Twitter, Instagram, Vine etc. of his Holsteins enjoying green fields and sunshine. Chiptole if you have visited a dairy farm where cows are raised in such a container please share with me, I’d like to see it.

dairy cow Holstein Alabama pastures

Gilmer Dairy: Follow Will on Twitter to see what he does on a daily basis on his farm in North Alabama

I’m also not sure why you show chickens being “pumped” with hormones.


Don’t you know that giving chickens hormones is illegal? It doesn’t happen. According to my poultry science professor Dr. Wallace Berry hormones do not even benefit chickens not to mention it would be too labor intensive. Don’t believe me? The University of Georgia has a great article on 7 Reasons Why Chickens are not Fed Hormones

Chiptole if you believe in “honesty” and “integrity” why on earth would you make a video and a game filled with such false and misleading information. To be honest if I didn’t know any better I would probably jump on the band wagon with you. However, I am smarter than that, I am not going to fall for a marketing stunt and I would hope the American public wouldn’t, but in today’s society that would be very wishful thinking.

I have never and will NEVER eat at one of your restaurants. What a wonderful opportunity as a seller of food  you could have to give people a glimpse of how their food is raised, people are curious, more and more people are living off the farm today than ever before. You could make advertising campaign into a positive one instead of one using fear. Considering you sell food I would hope you have been to a farm, but from your video I would guess you haven’t. Myself and many others would love for you to visit a farm (I can find you one anywhere in the country to visit you just let me know). If you were to see what REAL agriculture is like, I think you would agree it looks nothing like your video or your app.