Sunday, May 12, 2013


Chicken and rice is one of the world's favorite meals. I have eaten it in more countries than I can remember, all over Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

In the United States, consumption of chicken has increased pretty steadily. Currently, over 80 pounds of chicken is eaten per person per year. In all, some 75 percent of Americans eat it regularly. It is a relatively cheap meat, fairly neutral and adaptable in terms of flavor, and easily prepared. And, it can also contain arsenic. So can rice.

Recently researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, found arsenic in chicken that probably got there from the anti-parasitic drug Roxarsone. This drug was widely used in American industrial poultry production. It kept poultry free of parasites, allowing them to gain weight faster, and gave the flesh a pleasanter color. Roxarsone has now been suspended (though not banned) in the U.S., while the government is deciding what to do. Other similar anti-parasitic drugs, still on the market may also add to arsenic levels in our chicken lunch or dinner.

If you have read The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, you would have known about this years ago. The box on p.149 in the Meat and Poultry chapter, titled "Arsenic-Laced Poultry" summarizes the issue. And, as for arsenic in rice, the book also looks at that in the chapter on Grains. There are also a couple of earlier posts on arsenic in rice on this blog.

So how serious is all this? After all, the amounts are minute, particularly in the case of chicken, but with considerable variation between chickens. Even organic chicken may contain some - though much less. Chicken livers contain more than the meat itself.

But, even a little more, particularly if combined with arsenic in rice and maybe a bit of arsenic in your water...well...who knows. The Johns Hopkins University, School of Public Health, website reminds us of the risks. Quoting: Chronic inorganic arsenic exposure has been shown to cause lung, bladder and skin cancers and has been associated with other conditions, as well, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive deficits, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

So, should you stop eating chicken, and especially chicken and rice? Probably that would be going overboard. But, you may not want to eat it every day either. And, if you can afford it, organic chicken is safer.

To your good health,


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