Israel (D-Huntington) called for a federal ban on roxarsone, a common chicken and turkey additive that he said contains elements of cancer-causing arsenic.
"There is no good reason to be injecting poison into this turkey," he said, pointing to a cold bird on a nearby table. "Other than to line the pockets of big poultry producers."
Roxarsone is used in the diet of about 70 percent of American-bred chickens, according to a 2007 American Chemical Society study. The European Union banned arsenic additives in poultry in 1999. In the United States, McDonald's restaurants and its Chipotle Mexican Grill subsidiary are among those that avoid roxarsone.
Israel urged people to buy poultry certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Food and Drug Administration has said the additive is safe.
Keeve Nachman, a Johns Hopkins University professor who researches the effects of arsenic in the food supply, called roxarsone an "unnecessary additive" that poultry producers use to make birds larger and give the meat a pinkish hue.
Nachman said he would not advise people to avoid Thanksgiving turkey altogether, but agreed that organic birds were preferable, if they are available.
"This is an incremental risk," Nachman said. "It's an otherwise avoidable exposure."
And Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the arsenic additives cause ancillary environmental damage when it winds up in runoff from factory farms.
"The time for toxic turkey treatment needs to end," she said at the news conference.
Israel introduced legislation in September to ban roxarsone and it was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce. There is no companion Senate bill.
A spokesman for the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association did not return phone calls Monday.