On the eve of Thanksgiving, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) on Wednesday called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expedite a study of an arsenic-based drug used on poultry.
At a news conference at his Melville district office, Israel urged the FDA to complete its study on nitarsone, a drug given to turkeys and chickens to prevent the disease blackhead, by the end of the year.
"Americans shouldn't have to worry that their Thanksgiving turkey contains carcinogens," Israel said. "The FDA needs to provide answers on the safety of nitarsone and offer alternative options that prevent disease in turkeys but are healthy for consumers."
Kenneth Spaeth, director of occupational and environmental medicine at North Shore-LIJ, joined Israel at the news conference. Spaeth noted that, while the health impacts of nitarsone are still under study, "arsenic is inherently toxic . . . chronic exposure can lead to health problems."
Spaeth said the "risk itself is not in one particular meal, the cumulative effect is what we're worried about."
In 2009 and 2011, Israel filed legislation to ban the use of roxarsone, another arsenic-based drug used on poultry. Israel said the FDA withdrew its support of roxarsone and two other arsenic-based drugs used in poultry feed in September, following studies indicating they increased arsenic in poultry meat beyond naturally occurring levels.
Israel said when he reached out to FDA officials to ask why nitarsone was not included among the arsenic-based drugs removed from the marketplace, he was told the agency had to complete its scientific studies on the drug.
"I understand the need to study, evaluate and review, but you cannot endlessly study, evaluate and review," Israel said.
FDA spokeswoman Juli Ann Putnam said Wednesday that the agency "is in the process of completing several scientific studies and reviewing and evaluating information" to assess "any potential concerns" about the safety of arsenic-based animal drugs. The FDA will "review this information before reaching any conclusions about whether there may be grounds to initiate proceedings to withdraw approval of nitarsone," Putnam said.