If we can stop talking about virtual weiners for a while, how about some news on the stuff that actually goes in your mouth? Because I admire professional insouciance, I’ve been saving this article from the NYTimes “Business Day” section:
Pfizer Suspends Sales of Chicken Drug With Arsenic
WASHINGTON — Farmers have for decades fed chickens an arsenic-containing drug that promotes growth, but after a government study found trace amounts of this poisonous carcinogen in chickens, its maker will suspend its sales.
Officials at the Food and Drug Administration said the amounts found were so low that chickens treated with the drug, called 3-Nitro, do not pose a serious health risk and will continue to be sold. Perdue and organic chicken producers do not use the drug…
Business section, not food or health. What’s important is the possible effect on stock prices of a major pharmaceutical firm, not what mere consumers are putting in their mouths.
Pfizer, which makes 3-Nitro, also known as roxarsone, will suspend the drug’s sales in 30 days, giving producers time to find alternatives. The drug, first approved in 1944, kills intestinal parasites, promotes growth and makes meat look pinker. And since 3-Nitro contains organic arsenic, which is far less toxic than its inorganic counterpart, producers assumed that it would have no effect on people who ate the animals.
But there has been growing evidence that organic arsenic can change into its more toxic cousin. So F.D.A. researchers developed a way to measure inorganic arsenic in meat. They got 100 chickens, fed roxarsone to about half of them and measured levels of inorganic arsenic in their livers. Chickens fed roxarsone had consistently higher levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen…
We didn’t have to worry as long as we thought we were only ingesting organic arsenic!
Each year, the United States produces $45 billion worth of broiler chickens, the kind used for meat — about 37 billion pounds in 2010, according to the Agriculture Department. That equals about 80 pounds a year for each American, according to the National Chicken Council, which represents major companies like Perdue and Tyson. Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama are the biggest producers.
Richard Lobb, a spokesman for the chicken council, said 3-Nitro was used widely “but certainly not universally” by the industry. Mr. Lobb said that questions about roxarsone’s safety had been raised in the past but “we’ve always been able to show that there’s really no reason to be concerned about human health.”…
And who better to trust on the issue of chicken safety than the people whose job is to sell us more chicken? Look, they voluntarily “suspended” sales — or will, in a month or so…
Environmentalists have long been concerned that the waste from chickens treated with roxarsone, when used as fertilizer on crops, causes arsenic to leach into water supplies and estuaries. Even cattle are exposed, since chicken litter is sometimes included in feed…
Just in case you thought a burger might be a safer choice. Yep, they feed chicken manure to cows. When I took a dairy-science course thirty years ago, one of the standard elements of the nutrition-calculation equations was a commercial supplement made by mixing poultry-barn waste with ground-up telephone directories (urea plus fiber), but I’m sure that’s been supplanted by now… there probably aren’t enough phone directories printed to make it economical these days. Don’t look so nauseated, just think of it as recycling, ya DFH!
Of course, you vegans can’t afford to laugh at us carnivores right now. I was a little surprised that the European (drug resistant) E. coli O104 outbreak that has killed 31 people (so far) and hospitalized a couple thousand didn’t get more attention in the American press…. if only because the European Commission agreed to spend 200 million euros compensating farmers for “up to half” of the cost of hundreds of tons of produce (cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes) dumped from the supply chain or left to rot in the fields. Not to mention the slanging matches between the Germans, Dutch, and Spaniards about whose filthy shite-encrusted veggies were to blame…
It was the sprouts, of course. I’m from the generation of 1970s-era DFHs who decided, after one too many “mild” food-poisoning incidents, that eating any vegetable product nurtured in petri dishes and served raw was bound to be a crap shoot — if I want to add a peppery crunch to my salad, I look for the croutons. If you’re more stubborn about your dietary habits, Matthew E. Kahn (via RBC) has an interesting post on Risk Tradeoffs and Bean Sprouts. As he says: “Tradeoffs lurk“.
Evolved Deep Southerner
Come on. ONE of you sonsabitches comment. Please.
Evolved Deep Southerner
I am officially President and Vice President of a very, very modest kingdom.
This war on humanity needs a new name, something that would provide a candidate a means to breakout from the pack.
I suggest Rove and crew consider a new media-philosophy: Compassionate Objectivism
Evolved Deep Southerner
@efgoldman: I stand corrected. Third in line. I defer to VP Goldman.
Given the choice between a weiner or bean sprouts….
Why is it necessary to make the meat look pinker? Better yet, why is it necessary to feed a daily dose of drugs to a bird that will be made into breast strips and drumsticks in less than 8 weeks? Going back to raising my own meat birds looks more appetizing every day. Four weeks an you can stuff your freezer full of safe, no-antibiotics – even organic if you so desire – great tasting chicken. Chicken poo free beef… well that’s a whole different story. No wonder cow manure smells so bad!
Well… yeah. Different compounds have different effects on the human body. This seems like fairly basic biomedical knowledge to me.
I don’t like seeing our side make these kinds of loose name associations. Look at mercury: it’s poisonous, right? That general fact is used by wingnuts as a scare tactic against CFLs, even though the mercury vapor present in a fluorescent lamp is orders of magnitude less dangerous than, say, diethylmercury. If CFL mercury was as dangerous as diethylmercury, everyone who broke one would be likely to die within months.
Oh, and grow your own sprouts, obviously.
Evolved Deep Southerner
Experience enough, brother. More than enough. I defer to you in all things for the remainder of this thread.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
Things have progressed to the point where Dirk and Harry can at least stay on the same bed. The kid may also be starting to figure out that Monster is a lot more growl than bite.
Food is all about picking risks of all kinds. I went meatless in ’94 and never looked back. That took a whole range of potential problems off the table, so to speak.
What the heck are we supposed to eat now? I have a garden but things are slow in Washington. I had a very nice garden in Anaheim, CA, and we ate out of it for 2/3 of the year, sometimes well into January. I had that garden not just because the stuff tasted better but because we could control the environment around it.
I may have to put in a greenhouse.
@RossInDetroit: Yes, ok, but then you have that incident a few years ago of E. Coli that was in the plants. In the tissues, not on the outside.
Fucen Pneumatic Fuck Wrench Tarmal
from weiner overload, to being choked by chickens, to flicking bean sprouts?
this blog seems pent-up.
As bad as these sorts of incidents are with food safety, our food supply is amazingly safe.
Could it be better? Damn skippy it could be. But our food supply is far safer now than it was 50-100 years ago. Far more damage from a health standpoint is done by partaking in way too much of pretty damned safe product.
In reality, worrying about dying from an a particularly nasty strain of E. coli is a lot like someone thinking they are more likely to die in an airline crash vs dying in an automobile crash.
Humans aren’t worth a shit at assessing risk for the most part.
I hardly eat meat. When I do I try to eat natural or organic meats. The reason I quit meats and milk was all the hormones they pump into the animals. It really grosses me out.
There are hazards associated with all foods but the majority of serious illnesses are due to meat products. Working in a seafood restaurant for a decade made me paranoid about cleanliness. I know how to handle meat properly but I totally don’t trust everyone in the supply chain to take the same serious approach.
Short term risk, no question. Orders of magnitude safer. Long term risk, er, not so sure. We’re good at testing short term stuff, but long term – seriously, there are profits to be made – we can’t wait that long.
How many incidents of autism, cancer, etc. are due to the short-term improvements in the food supply? We really have no clue. May not be many, might be millions.
50 or 100 years ago the hamburger you bought from a butcher was probably local or hadn’t traveled far. If it was tainted a few people got sick. Today, hamburger is processed in factories that make colossal batches. One small tainted batch can spoil tons of product be spread out to tens of thousands of people.
So it will look ‘more appetizing’ under the megamart chain’s flourescent lighting, and be more saleable. (“Natural” producers, like Perdue, feed broiler chickens marigolds so their meat will look ‘golden’ for the same reason.)
Animals force-fed antibiotics bulk up faster. If you’re growing your own dinner, waiting an extra week for a chicken or a month for a piglet to reach ‘table weight’ is just part of the equation. But to an agribusiness chain that treats its animals as units, every day shaved off the entry-to-market chain is an important profit marker!
This is true, but the facts are we will likely never really be able to nail the cause of many of these sorts of diseases as many can have multiple causes–chief among them are cancer.
One of the main reasons we see more cancers now than we did many years ago is people have longer life spans and are more likely to accumulate enough critical mutations in mechanisms controlling abnormal cell growth for cancers to show up.
Autism which many claimed to be caused by thimersol in vaccines,has had that specific “cause” unmasked as a complete and total fraud. Not to say that rates of autism aren’t rising and that there aren’t environmental factors involved.
Modern agricultural practices (some of which are pretty nasty, admittedly) have been a boon to mankind. One hundred years ago, far more of the work force of was involved in feeding the earths population today and food took a much bigger chunk out of disposable income than it does now. Moreover, modern sanitation methods in food preparation/preservation, refrigeration and water treatment have likely prevented many more deaths than have been caused by the diseases caused by the introduction of modern agricultural methods (if one takes the morbidity and mortality caused by consumption of too much food).
@Anne Laurie: BTW thanks AL. I had chicken for dinner tonight. I wonder if it’s too late to go bulimic…
I don’t know, this doesn’t particularly freak me out. ::shrug::
This is true, but we likely had much smaller outbreaks as well and much poorer surveillance systems than are in place today.
Also, Upton Sinclair didn’t write The Jungle for shits and giggles.
You also have to factor in that humans are pretty adaptable animals. Take into account things like “montezuma’s revenge”–local folks who live in areas that aren’t used to good sanitation are like goats compared to “gringos”. They are used to the the microbial flora that contaminates their food and water and can stand a much higher “dose” of a potential pathogen than someone not used to the flora.
OT: More proof that immigrants r ebil. Also.
Autism doesn’t actually appear to be on the rise, at least when researchers are specifically focusing on the rates.
Latest study in Britain looking for undiagnosed rates of autism and related syndromes among adults found that so many adults were undiagnosed that around 1 percent of all Britons were autistic.
However, that’s the same rate of diagnosis of autism in children.
Therefore, from the most comprehensive study on the rates of undiagnosed autism among adults in the UK — unless it’s to be suggested that the UK isn’t like the US in this matter — there’s not a rise in rates of autism among children if they share the same rate as adults.
If this were true, it wouldn’t in the slightest be a justification to ignore the exposure to adults and children to a massive chaotic experiment in exposure to tremendous mixes of known toxic chemicals, many of them very new.
@RossInDetroit: Yes, I know this. I buy very little meat, and then it’s organic/grass-fed/no antibiotics, etc. I’m probably ok with the chicken I’ve been buying because of that, but still it worries me because I like to eat these things sometimes.
Chicken has always worried me, which is why I changed my buying habits, only buy it when I have a reasonable expectation of being safe with it.
I dunno; I may be less concerned about the arsenic-laced chicken poo fed to cows than I am about the ammonia added to the “fatty trimmings” from the contaminated outer portion of the carcasses to (they say) kill all the e coli and other bad bugs found there. The chopped-up fatty trimmings are mixed with ammonia into “pink slime” which is then mixed with ground beef and allows the producer to make a whole 3 cents extra per pound. Which is all fine and good, if you don’t mind eating ammonia. And also, if you’re willing to accept the producer’s word that it kills all the pathogens, which you have to do since the Bushies set it up so they wouldn’t be subject to testing by outside agencies. And also, too, if you aren’t concerned that when others tested the product, they found that the ammonia wasn’t killing the e coli. Which means, you’re eating ground beef cut with ammonia AND getting extra e coli in the bargain.
If that squicks you out, stay away from ground beef and stick to ground chuck, round, and sirloin – pink slime isn’t mixed into them. Or better yet, stick to pasture-raised & organic beef.
We talk about how the Republicans won’t be happy until they’ve got us all eating cat food; the dirty secret is that we’re eating it already and they’re STILL not satisfied.
More than you ever wanted to know about Arsenic
Agreed with some of the other people above that while there are definitely legit concerns with our food system – systemic risk building the conditions for a black swan event, etc – it’s not at all helpful to have this kind of “OMG ARSENIC! HAHALOLZ EVERYONE IT’S IN THE ORGANIC FORM SO I GUESS WE REAAAALY MUST BE SAFE, GOSH THOSE CRAZEE SCIENTISTS” rhetoric.
The problem with it is that if you want to make things sound scary to lay people it’s too easy. Example: “OMG, DON’T EAT TABLE SALT! IT’S MADE OUT OF SODIUM (A METAL THAT EXPLODES WHEN IT TOUCHES WATER), AND CHLORINE (YUUUUUM) WHICH WAS THE TOXIC GAS THE GERMANS USED TO KILL US IN WW1. EAT IT IF YOU WANT, BUT WHY ARE THESE CRAZEE SCIENTISTS SO SURE THEY AREN’T KILLING US”. Everything in there is totally true, and totally beside the point.
So please, more of the real concerns, less of the pseudo-scientific scare mongering please. KTHXBYE.
@Ecks: Exactly what I was thinking after reading this post. There are legitimate concerns with our food supply that we should be concerned with, but the organic vs. inorganic arsenic rant AL posted was really not up to her usual thoughtful standard. The chemical form that various chemicals (and nutrients for that matter) have does matter when it comes to the biological effects they have.
“Business section, not food or health”
Fine with me. The food section is fluff, like the style section, there to hold the restaurant ads. Health sections often carry woo-oriented crap. Both are sometimes carried less often than daily.
Frankly, the business section is where it’ll get the most attention. The alternative would be a science section, but many papers dedicate little room for science coverage.
The arsenic in the chicken feed doesn’t stay on the farm, but may end up in groundwater or spread in dust. It is also an impediment to farmers’ ability to use chicken manure as fertilizer and reduces opportunities to incinerate the waste to generate energy. A short paper in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives by researchers from Johns Hopkins University summarized the problems created by the use of arsenic in chicken feed. They write: “The U.S. Geological Survey has calculated, based on arsenic concentrations measured in poultry waste, that between 250,000 and 350,000 kg arsenic is annually applied to land in the United States (Rutherford et al. 2003). Although roxarsone, the predominant arsenical added to poultry feed, is an organoarsenical, there is strong evidence that the drug is converted into inorganic arsenic within the chicken (Arai et al. 2003) and is also rapidly transformed into inorganic arsenic in wastes and soils (Garbarino et al. 2003). Elevations in soil arsenic levels have been reported in fields where poultry wastes have been applied (Gupta and Charles 1999). This form of arsenic is readily leachable and may therefore move into groundwater (Rutherford et al. 2003).”
The full paper (which lists references cited above in full, of course) is available for free at the journal’s website.
The blog of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University has a few posts about the environmental hazards of feeding arsenic to chickens.
whoa. 3 hrs dead
Speaking of pink slime, here‘s what the ammonia treated “meat” that goes into chicken nuggets, deli meats, etc., looks like.
Anne Laurie – I think your point about how this got covered in the business section instead of food or health was on target.
>Of course, you vegans can’t afford to laugh at us carnivores right now.
Not laughing, but still really glad that, as a vegan, there’s a whole range of food contamination/corruption issues that I don’t have to worry about. (Except second-hand, of course, through poisoning of ecosystems.)
Just wanted to say that we stumbled onto some wholly organic chicken at our big chain grocery store, with none of this and none of that and none of 15 other things. And it is DELICIOUS! So much flavor! We buy the thighs, bake them, and serve them like fine steak, with only a little salt. Yum.
Hey, I found the same type of chicked and meat. It costs more, but it is worth it.
The well water in these parts has a bit of arsenic.
I agree that organic is better. However, the organic “label” is very misleading:
“For raising animals, antibiotics would not be permitted as growth stimulants but would be permitted to counter infections. The rules permit up to 20% of animal feed to be obtained from non-organic sources. This was done because some nutrients (such as trace minerals) are not always available organically. Irradiation, which can reduce or eliminate certain pests, kill disease-causing bacteria, and prolong food shelf-life, would be permitted during processing. Genetic engineering would also be permissible.”
There is a big Catch-22 for chicken, beef, veal, etc. producers. One the one hand, consumers say they want to eat meat that has come from, for want of a better word, happy animals. Those that are housed with others of their species in areas large enough to move around freely while eating food that is similar to what members of their species ate 100 years ago.
On the other hand, what consumers actually buy is the cheapest available. And producing 5 pounds of chicken per square foot on $2.50 of feed is cheaper than producing 5 pounds of chicken per 3 square feet on $5.00 of feed.
Sure, there are folks who either stop eating meat entirely or are willing to pay more for local, organic, humane foods. But that’s a tiny sliver of the market. In Europe, many of the humane practices that are being pushed for in this country are mandated by law. As a result, the consumption of imported, cheap poultry from countries that don’t go by EU guidelines is increasing.
One beef producer once told me that she’d by happy to sing her cows songs every night if she could get paid for it.
@Jennifer: I was going to post about the “pink slime” too.
I’m not too phobic, or at least I wasn’t, about the big fast food chains. For at least a couple decades I only might have gone once a month for nostalgia’s sake (hey, grew up when such as a McD’s was a rare, rare treat), or if I absolutely had to.
It’s not like I was naive about their meat quality before.
But there was something so god-damned disgusting and callous about the “Beef Products International” pink slime mix that from then on I’ve never ever had any sort of processed or ground meat (of any time, as I think the same has spread to chicken & pork, such as sausage patties) from such a place.
Maybe some fries every now and then.
mem from somerville
When I lived in Maine there was so much arsenic in the well water that we used to joke about going to people’s houses and checking how their pets looked before having a glass of water. “Hey, so how is Rex these days? Where is he? …”
And everyone’s head would asplode if I showed you Bruce Ames’ list of toxins in plants (including coffee). Dose matters.
Alas. Food Safety: Focus on Real Risks, Not Fake Ones.
You might think these companies that do this sort of thing–with the blessing of our government–to maximize profits–don’t care about the general welfare of the population. But you would be wrong. Maximizing profits is for the general welfare of the population. If you can’t see that then you’re just not smart and magical.
Late to the thread, as usual, but wanted to put a comment in here about how this topic ties to the green and sustainable design movement.
The sustainable design uses the “Three Legged Stool” mantra of People, Profit, Planet. The idea is that industrial processes that are not sustainable will not just produce poisoned food, but pollution, and economic instability as well.
The same industrial food processes, for example, not only give us toxic food, they also rely on economicly unsustainable labor practices, in which certain people reap huge rewards, while the rest of us are stuck footing the bill for the environmental damage.
It isn’t just a matter of picking which poison to eat- we can change this by talking up the hidden subsidies and cost shifting public policies that have created this situation.
“The same industrial food processes, for example, not only give us toxic food, they also rely on economicly unsustainable labor practices, in which certain people reap huge rewards, while the rest of us are stuck footing the bill for the environmental damage.”
That, too. The labor practices are not just unsustainable, btw, but immoral: slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants were cited by Human Rights International for inhumane working conditions (also, see Postville), and most chickens are produced by exploited sharecropper-type labor.
Why is WYLDPIRATE the voice of reason in this thread?
Do you know how many godawful toxic substances are in your body? Hint: ALL OF THEM. The question is whether they’re in high enough doses to be dangerous. We have a good idea of how much organic arsenic is necessary to be dangerous. This is less than that. Despite that a company is stopping use of it. I’ll grant you that their motivation is ‘nobody sue us’, but so?
‘Arsenic’ is a scary word. ‘Organic’ is a word that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. ‘Autism’ is also a scary word, but most of you have realized that the vaccine scare is jackass. When you have scientific proof that something is harmful, you have a reason to freak out. Those times happen. When you don’t, you don’t. This is one of the latter.
No, not really.
Or that is, that IS the question if you want to look at it in isolation. It is NOT the question if you want to look at the bigger picture.
Which is, our entire industrial society is founded on creating thousands of different new and alien substances, some of which have been proven to be toxic, others less so.
But the vast majority of substances have never been studied, at least not in combination with each other.
For example- as noted in the article, and others, everything spreads- pharmaceuticals that are beneficial in one application are being flushed into the rivers and oceans and aquifers, and now are turning up in “fresh” drinking water all over the world; they are combined with the thousands of chemical offspring of the petrochemical industry, combined with agents that are deemed harmless in isolation.
What is this complex stew of things doing to us? No one knows because it can’t possibly be studied- there are too many variables and no such thing as a true control to do any worthwhile study.
But what we do know is that our bodies and the natural world have never been exposed to this massive dispersal of chemicals- if it turns out that 50 years hence we discover that Chemical A is toxic, how do we fix it, when it has spread to every corner of the globe, to be found in every organism from tree toads in the Amazon to babies in Kansas?
Secondly the vast agri-business industry is based on a bizarre distortion of the “free” market, a system of hidden subsidies and rent-seeking, that unfaily saddles the taxpayers with the costs while delivering the shareholders with the profits.
Third, this system of inefficient production and wasteful disposal actually harms the economy- as the glibertarians are fond of pointing out, by having the government pick winners and losers in the marketplace based on political patronage, we actually punish the businesses that pay a fair wage and don’t destroy the environment. The progressive tax and labor policies of the 1950’s produced the middle class, which in turn fueled the consumer economy that makes us all prosperous.
If you want to talk only about arsenic, fine there are probably debatable points abouts its toxicity. But what is not really open for debate any longer is that our industrial processes that produce “cheap” food and consumer goods, actually has a hidden price tag that is far higher than anyone ever thought.
Great. My steak could kill me, my hamburger could kill me, my chicken Parmesan could kill me, my apple at lunch could kill me, my cucumber salad could kill me, my milk could kill me…
Remind me again why we let the big companies do this kind of stuff? Because I’ve totally forgotten. Ugh. Not even my broccoli is safe… ):
@efgoldman: Right, but that has nothing to do with salt being composed to two chemicals that are on their own dangerous and toxic. It has everything to do with the fact that due to the way osmosis work, salt is vital to retaining fluid in cells, and so regulating our salt levels is important. That can be good (the ability to extract and season food with salt was key to exploring deserts, where carrying more water in your body is REALLY useful), or, if you have the wrong genes for our modern diets and your body is overzealous about storing extra salt, it can be bad.
“sodium” is just the tag we use to describe the salt levels in things.
The basic point stands – it’s really easy to make ordinary things sound really scary by describing their chemical components to people who know a little but not enough science (“OMIGODZ TEH HINDENBURG EXPLODED WHEN THE HYDROGEN IN IT MIXED WITH OXYGEN, AND NOW I FIND THE WATER BEING PIPED TO OUR HOMES BYE BIT WATERCO IS FULL OF BOTH HYDROGEN AND OXYGEN MIXED TOGETHER! WHO PUT US IN THESE PEOPLE’S HANDS!”).
In Meander’s post above he/she breaks apart the science of how the arsenic may move from the harmless form put into chickens into a moer dangerous one set loose in the environment – THAT is the kind of thing we need. If you start looking at the rates at which the dangerous form concentrates in the ground, and figure out what doses of it start being dangerous, THEN you have a real thoughtful post about the threat that this process can hold for us. But AL making gagging clown faces just because scientists say something that sounds dangerous isn’t… that’s a reflex that we seriously need to educate people out of.
@efgoldman: And what happened to him in the next election? Don’t try to tell me about Ross Perot or any of that other nonsense. We all know it was the broccoli lobby that did him in.
Cliff in NH
It was Also in the original post:
Posts like this help me stay with my 18 years now vegetarian course. Love me some meat. Just seeing how it is produced as part of my job made me think needed to go veg. Daughter working at an organic farm. Thinking of lowering my standard to an occasional free range organic meat meal, but for now sticking with veg.