Most of the arsenic exposure in the American diet does not come from rice because in the American diet rice is not a staple like in East Asia. In the US more than three-quarters of arsenic exposure comes from animal products and mostly from chicken.
The first mention of arsenic in history was at the court of the Roman Emperor Nero by Greek physician Dioscorides in the first century. Arsenic is a hazardous substance because it lacks color, taste, or odor. It is abundant in nature and readily available to all classes of society. Because it can be mixed with drinks or food and leave no taste or smell it is an ideal substance for sinister uses. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning are also tough to detect because they mimic regular food poisoning and other common disorders. In a large dose, it causes vomiting, diarrhea, violent abdominal cramping, and death. With chronic poisoning in small doses, there would be confusion, loss of strength, and paralysis. Eventually, arsenic trioxide (As2O3) known as white arsenic was commonly used to poison people with a lethal dose the size of a pea. Pope Alexander VI and his son, Cesare were, for example, well-known arsenic poisoners. Pope, Alexander VI appointed cardinals and with privileges and power granted by the church, cardinals were encouraged to do whatever it takes to increase their personal wealth. Then at some point, they were invited to have a meal with the Borgias resulting in the death of the cardinal. In that scenario by church law ownership of cardinal property reverted back to the church or in other words to Pope, Alexander VI, his executioner. With its colorful and long history, arsenic is not a substance that people want in their food.
If we look at the arsenic pollution geographically, the U.S. is the most polluted place in the world. This is because arsenic is used in the farming industry for decades.
In modern poultry farms, there are too many chickens concentrated in a small amount of space. Most of them spend their entire life barely moving. In this type of condition chicken manure is a problem for the creation of infectious disease outbreaks. The typical chicken will produce roughly 90 pounds of manure. On big farms, there can be hundreds of thousands of chickens in one facility. The floor of these buildings is covered with feces, soybean, ethers, peanut, and rice hulls. To stop the infections and to prevent disease and promote growth the poultry industry has used organoarsenicals, such as a 3-nitro-4-hydroxyphenylarsonic acid (Roxarsone, ROX).
Due to continued soil accumulation, soil arsenic concentrations from long-term poultry litter applications can exceed safety level standards. These compounds would leach and contaminate underground waters that are in some cases even used for human consumption. What is much worse is that chicken litter is used for application to agricultural lands and for fertilizing fish ponds.
In the US around 90 percent of poultry litter filled with arsenic will be used in the agricultural fields as fertilizer.
Then some of that arsenic will be absorbed by crops that grow on that arsenic amended field. Poultry litter has also been used as feed to beef cattle as well. It is used as a starting material in the creation of mushroom compost. For years mushroom concentration of arsenic has rivaled the rice. The latest study showed that now mushrooms average around half of the rice. The estimate was that around half a million pounds of pure arsenic were dumped in the environment every year in the U.S.
FDA monitors arsenic content in the diets of Americans for decades. The highest concentration is in farmed raised fish at 1.14 ppm. Fish are fed with chicken manure. Even if you avoid fish, lower concentrations were found in most of the food items analyzed. Chicken has 0.08 ppm and rice 0.16 ppm. Rice is the primary source of arsenic exposure in the non-seafood diet. FDA toxicologists argue that the average daily intake of arsenic poses no hazard to the consumer. I tend to disagree.
Arsenic pesticide usage in the U.S. has been common practice in cotton-growing as well, so states like Mississippi and Arkansas have a higher level of pollution. Arsenic pesticides are now banned, but all of that pollution is still there so Californian rice, for example, has 41% lower levels of arsenic than Mississippi one. The concentration of arsenic in the soil can be at the point where it affects the rice plant itself. There is an arsenic toxicity disorder in rice called the straight head. The symptoms range from an increase of blank florets to complete grain failure. To deal whit this the industry created arsenic-resistant strains. Now rice can take much more than previously naturally possible without getting any problem. The only thing left to deal with this situation is for the industry now to create arsenic resistant humans. The same story as with wine. Decades of arsenic pesticide use accumulated arsenic in the soil, so there is a constant, pervasive presence in American wine as well.
The situation today will be much worse if there wasn’t for one biostatistics student. It all started back in 2000 when the biostatistics student came to the USDA in search of the project for his master’s degree. What he was found is that the arsenic level in chicken was three times as in the other meats. Although this was an unexpected finding, it was soon explained to him that in the USA antibiotics containing arsenic are fed to the poultry to promote growth, improve pigmentation, and prevent diseases. FDA approved the first drug Roxarsone in 1944.
So while arsenic-containing drugs were in wide-scale use since the 1940’s the recognition of the exposure was only accrued after statistical analysis of the data. In other words, the FDA deliberately did nothing. The student did his master’s publication. After that, the study was published in 2004, expended in 2006.
Because the type of arsenic used is in organic form, not the toxic inorganic form made infamous in Arsenic and Old Lace the FDA approved these drugs as safe. This might seem logical to you, and I will like you to stop the reading and think about this. How is it possible that FDA approves drugs for 70 years that are not safe? If arsenic used is in the nontoxic organic form then what is the problem, why would the FDA endanger the American people? They know what they are doing and who is manipulating who here? Poisoning children with 300 times of allowed arsenic concentrations for what? Profit. Without government approval, nothing can happen.
What happens, in this case, is this. When organic arsenic is cooked, cooking alters the arsenic profile into arsenite and arsenate. Also, microbes in the chicken manure alter the arsenic into inorganic form as well (1). It was shown that more than 96% of Roxarsone added in chicken feed was degraded and converted to arsenite, and other unknown As species. Roots of vegetables could absorb both forms arsenate and arsenite, but the only arsenite was transported up to shoots. This study had proved that plants absorb the toxic inorganic As. Transport of arsenic goes like this: Roxarsone in feed › animals › animal manure › soil › crop.
Because of all of this “knowledge”, the Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2009 was introduced into Congress. Then again the Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2011, then again all of this was a just governmental lie. As a result, in 2013 different groups from the environmental movement, agriculture, food safety, and public health came together and filed joined lawsuit against the FDA forcing it to respond.
In 2015, to avoid public awareness of the entire corrupt system of the FDA, it was forced to withdraw approval for the last of the arsenic-containing drugs keeping this story as quiet as possible. The bad news for the industry is that without the Roxarsone the chicken meat will lose its appealing pink color. One more important thing to mention. Chicken manure is used for organic fertilizer production. It can be composted and converted to black gold. Arsenic was still there until 2016.
Passages selected from a book: “Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 1” [Milos Pokimica]