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Response to the President of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association: Use of Roxarsone in poultry and swine feed defies “sustainability"

By: Brent Kim

Responding to Congressman Steve Israel’s (D-NY) proposed ban on roxarsone – an arsenical growth-promoting additive to swine and poultry feed – John Starkey, President of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, claimed use of the antimicrobial drug in poultry feed “…increases sustainability of production.”  Mr. Starkey’s use of the term “sustainability” requires clarification – is he associating roxarsone use in feed with a form of sustainable agriculture, or is he suggesting the practice is necessary to sustain the cost-effectiveness of a poultry operation?  Both claims are unsupported, if not wholly contradictory to the evidence.

By the USDA’s legal definition, sustainable agriculture will “[e]nhance environmental quality…” and “[e]nhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”  The use of roxarsone in poultry and swine feed fails on both counts:  The practice poses a threat to environmental quality and public health, including exposing humans to arsenic, leading to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, neurological defects, diabetes and cancer – hardly a boon to quality of life.

The dangers to human health associated with roxarsone use are paired with negligible benefits to the producer, even net losses.  There is some controversy over the cost-effectiveness of antimicrobial use in feed, but recent analyses suggest eliminating the practice could cut net costs.

The continued use of roxarsone use in feed grossly defies the core tenets of sustainable agriculture, and may have little benefit – if not an adverse effect – on production efficiency.  Following the lead of both Congressman Israel and (reportedly) a number of major poultry producers, eliminating the practice could be a win-win scenario for both the poultry and swine industries and public health.

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