FDA withdraws 98 of 101 arsenic-based animal drug approvals

Decision comes four years after withdrawal petition filed by Institute for Agriculture Trade and Policy, Center for Food Safety

In a letter responding to a petition brought by nine major health and environmental organizations, on September 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will withdraw 98 of 101 approvals given to arsenic-based animal drugs.

This action will remove three of the four arsenic-containing drugs used in the production of poultry and hogs. The FDA’s decision comes almost four years after a petition was filed by the Institute for Agriculture Trade and Policy and the Center for Food Safety asking that the agency withdraw its approval of the drugs.

“This move by the FDA is an important validation to the work being done in the health care sector to bring attention to the public and environmental health effects of arsenic-containing food additives in poultry production,” said Emma Sirois, co-chair of Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care Program. “As large purchasers of food, hospitals in HCWH’s network have been asking their suppliers to identify poultry grown without these drugs – sending a strong signal to the market to change this production practice in support of public health.”

Arsenic-based drugs are used in animal agriculture because they speed weight gain and provide enhanced color to poultry meat. A 2006 IATP study showed that 70 percent of U.S.-produced chickens are fed these drugs. In a letter explaining its decision, the FDA cited a recent study, including one by petitioner Center for a Livable Future, that challenged previous assumptions of the safety of these drugs in humans consuming meat of animals raised using them. In particular, concern arose over the ability of organic arsenic to transform into inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, in the environment or animal tissue.

The FDA has not yet made a ruling on nitarsone, an arsenic-containing compound that is still being used in poultry products. The petitioners will conduct research on how to proceed. Their ultimate goal is for the FDA to withdraw approvals for all arsenic-based animal drugs.