Maryland is set to become the first state in the nation to outlaw chicken feed additives containing arsenic - but it won't be the last, if environmental activists have their way.
Gov.Martin O'Malleyis scheduled to sign into law today legislation that bars sale or use of any chicken feed containing Roxarsone, which has been widely used since the 1940s by the poultry industry. It would become effective Jan. 1.
Environmental and food safety advocates say they hope to push for similar legislation in other states, including neighboring Virginia.
Roxarsone had been used to prevent disease and plump chickens up. But the drug's maker, a subsidiary of Pfizer Inc., voluntarily suspended sales last year after a Food and Drug Administration study found low levels of inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen, in the livers of birds given the veterinary drug.
Other studies have found arsenic in poultry manure and in water ways by crop fields fertilized with the birds' waste. Proponents of the ban argued that use of Roxarsone was adding 25,000 to 30,000 pounds of arsenic to Maryland's soil and waters annually.
Supporters and representatives of the poultry industry argued that the state should leave the issue to the FDA, and that Maryland farmers would be at a competitive disadvantage if Roxarsone went back on the market. But proponents argued that the state needed to act because the drug's maker could resume sales at any time, since the FDA had not formally barred it.
"Today Maryland shows the nation how to stand up for food safety and the environment," Del. Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery County, the main House sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement. Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's County, championed the measure in the Senate.
Lawmakers did specify that another arsenic-laced veterinary drug, Histostat, may continue to be fed to turkeys. And the measure leaves open the prospect that Roxarsone could be reintroduced in Maryland, should the FDA determine it is safe and effective and causes no harm to the environment. The agency is conducting additional tests and consulting with AlPharma, the drug's maker, a spokeswoman said earlier this year. She could offer no timetable for when the FDA's studies would be finished.