ANNAPOLIS – After three years of failed attempts, efforts to pass a ban on arsenic in poultry feed used by the state’s chicken farms appear close to fruition.
Eastern Shore senators largely opposed SB 207, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, on the basis that it would be detrimental to the state’s struggling poultry farms.
Nonetheless, the bill passed in a preliminary Senate vote Wednesday, and is expected to get final approval soon. A similar House bill passed last month.
The bill targets a chemical additive called roxarsone, which is used in chicken and turkey feed to treat coccidiosis, an intestinal parasitic disease. The drug’s manufacturer, a Pfizer Inc. subsidiary, voluntarily pulled it from the market last year after a Food and Drug Administration study found that chickens fed roxarsone had small amounts of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in their livers, according to the FDA’s website.
Although the FDA is investigating and the drug is currently off the market, it hasn’t been formally banned by the federal agency and could be reintroduced at any time — which is why bill supporters say Maryland needs an outright prohibition.
The bill “protects the health and welfare of all Marylanders,” Pinsky said during an often impassioned debate on the Senate floor.
He also cited arsenic’s environmental impact. Poultry manure laced with the chemical can run off into the Chesapeake Bay, he said.
But multiple senators from the Eastern Shore, Republican and Democratic alike, called the bill an attack on Maryland’s poultry industry. They argued the bill was unnecessary since roxarsone isn’t even being sold.
“During these dire economic times, we should not be passing a bill that damages a Maryland industry without due cause,” said Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester.
He said the bill would put Maryland poultry farmers at a competitive disadvantage if farmers in other states are allowed to use feed with roxarsone. Most poultry farmers contract their farms to larger companies like Perdue, which supply them with feed.
“Look at our state seal — you’ll see the farmer and you’ll see the fisherman,” said Sen. Jim Mathias, D-Worcester. “One more straw and you’re going to break the camel’s back. There are 49 states where (poultry farmers) can go, and they’re going there.”
Pinsky countered that Perdue, one of the largest poultry companies in Maryland, hasn’t used roxarsone in five years. McDonald’s also has asked its chicken producers not to use feed with arsenic additives.
“This is not an anti-Perdue, anti-chicken farming law. It’s a pro-chicken farmer law,” he said.
The Senate adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, that struck a provision requiring tests of the chemical’s impact on the Chesapeake Bay. The law will be voided if the FDA study approves the future use of roxarsone and evaluates the chemical’s environmental impact and safety in human food, among other considerations.