Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Nitarsone, Inorganic Arsenic, and Other Arsenic Species in Turkey Meat: Exposure and Risk Assessment Based on a 2014 U.S. Market Basket Sample

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Nitarsone, Inorganic Arsenic, and Other Arsenic Species in Turkey Meat: Exposure and Risk Assessment Based on a 2014 U.S. Market Basket Sample

Article excerpt


Arsenic-based drugs have been used in the production of chickens, turkeys, and swine in the United States since the 1940s (Silbergeld and Nachman 2008). The approvals for three of these drugs, roxarsone, arsanilic acid, and carbarsone, were withdrawn by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 30 September 2013, rendering their domestic sale illegal (FDA 2013). The approval of a fourth drug, nitarsone [(4-nitrophenyl) arsonic acid, [C.sub.6][H.sub.6]AsN[O.sub.5]], used in chickens and turkeys, was withdrawn by the FDA in December of 2015, terminating the domestic sale of the drug.

Evidence shows that the use of arsenic-based drugs in food animal production results in human dietary exposures to arsenic, including inorganic arsenic (iAs) (Lasky et al. 2004; Wallinga 2006; Nachman et al. 2013; Liu et al. 2015, 2016), and in the environmental distribution of arsenic in manure (Jackson and Bertsch 2001; Bednar et al. 2003; Garbarino et al. 2003; Jackson et al. 2003; Rutherford et al. 2003; Nachman et al. 2005, 2008). Previous research on arsenic-based drugs has primarily considered roxarsone, a drug used in [less than or equal to] 90% of domestic chicken production before its removal from the U.S. market (Nachman et al. 2012). In a U.S.-based market-basket study, we found significant increases in iAs concentrations in chicken meat from animals likely raised with roxarsone compared with meat from organic and antibiotic-free chickens not fed roxarsone (Nachman et al. 2013).

Little is known, however, about the potential arsenic exposure resulting from nitarsone use in turkey production. Its clinical indication is for the prevention of blackhead disease in poultry, which is caused by the protozoan species Histomonas meleagridis (McDougald 2005). To our knowledge, no study has evaluated the distribution of arsenic species in meat from nitarsone-treated turkeys. Given the similarity of roxarsone and nitarsone (Figure 1), nitarsone use could result in similar dietary exposures to arsenic for turkey consumers.

The level of nitarsone dosage during its preventive use and the lifespan of turkeys raised for meat consumption suggest that arsenic species could accumulate in commonly consumed tissues such as muscle, fat, and skin. Although information regarding pharmaceutical use in animal production is not made public, statements from industry trade groups suggest that nitarsone was widely used in U.S. turkey production before its withdrawal from the market in 2015, mostly during the first few weeks of the birds' lives and more heavily during summer months, in turkeys to be consumed during the fall and winter (Aubrey 2013; Strom 2013).

The purpose of this study was to examine the potential impact of nitarsone use on arsenic species exposure among turkey consumers. Specifically, we studied retail turkey products to characterize the occurrence of arsenic species in meat. Given industry statements about the seasonality of nitarsone usage in turkey production, we examined differences in the occurrence of arsenic species in meat from turkey products purchased in two different seasons. Using turkey consumption data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), we estimated the lifetime average daily exposure to these arsenic species among turkey consumers and estimated cancer risks associated with ingestion of iAs attributable to arsenical drug use in animal production.


Sample Collection and Preparation

A total of 184 turkey samples were included in our study, including products from 14 producers representing 64% of the 2014 U.S. turkey market (National Turkey Federation 2016). Turkeys reach market weight and are processed at 4-5 months of age. Given this information, we examined 128 samples of raw turkey meat purchased in March (to represent turkeys whose lifespan primarily did not overlap with summer months when nitarsone use may have been less likely or reduced) and 56 raw turkey samples purchased in October (to represent turkeys whose lifespan largely overlapped with the summer months when nitarsone use was more likely). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.