The Physics Police

The Physics Police

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Arsenic Chicken

There's a drug fed to chickens called Roxarsone. This molecule contains an atom of arsenic.

A new study titled Roxarsone, Inorganic Arsenic, and Other Arsenic Species in Chicken concludes:
Conventional chicken meat had higher [inorganic arsenic] concentrations than did conventional antibiotic-free and organic chicken meat samples.
Predictably, the birdbrains have already start running around like decapitated chickens. Let's inoculate ourselves against their anti-science rhetoric, shall we?

Of foremost importance, when discussing any frightening chemical, is to consider its concentration.

Conventional chickens were found to contain 3.4 ppb arsenic.
Antibiotic-free chickens were found to contain 2.0 ppb arsenic.

EPA tolerance for arsenic in drinking water is 10 ppb.
FDA tolerance for arsenic in chicken meat is 500 ppb.
FDA tolerance for arsenic in shellfish 86,000 ppb.

So, just how much chicken breast would you have to eat, to reach the daily safe intake of 50 µg?
(50 micrograms) / (3.4 / 1 billion) = 32.4 lbs
That's more than 7 whole chickens! I think, after such a meal, I'd have greater concerns than my daily intake of arsenic...

Anyway, back in 2011, the FDA put out a press release when the company that produces Roxarsone (also called 3-Nitro) pulled it from the market. They sum up the issue nicely:
...the levels of inorganic arsenic detected were very low and that continuing to eat chicken as 3-Nitro is suspended from the market does not pose a health risk.
So the drug isn't even being fed to chickens anymore, at least, not in the USA!

Now that we have the facts, lets examine some of the birdbrained fear tactics:

Fear tactic #1: Conspiracy theory.
After years of sweeping the issue under the rug and hoping no one would notice, the FDA has now finally admitted that chicken meat sold in the USA contains arsenic...
In order to discredit any rational, scientific argument, the fear monger accuses the FDA of hiding something. The reader is then primed to distrust the scientific conclusions made by the FDA, such as the lack of danger due to the insignificance of the low levels of arsenic.

Fear tactic #2: Appeal to tribalism.
... it's just what the poultry industry wanted everybody to believe.
In order to discredit scientific consensus, the fear monger introduces an imaginary enemy, the poultry industry. Faced with this threat, the reader suspends reason, becomes reactionary, and rejects the scientific consensus, which the reader perceives as belonging to an out-group or foreign tribe. As in this example, this is best used in conjunction with conspiracy theory.

Fear tactic #2: Trigger words.
... arsenic, cancer-causing toxic chemical that's fatal in high doses.
... poisoning us with their deadly ingredients.
... vaccines containing chemical adjuvants that are injected into children.
... they're eating second-hand chicken crap.
In order to stop the reader from thinking clearly, the fear monger includes words which are likely to trigger an emotional response. Most people know someone who has died from cancer (mentioned 5 times in the article), making this an extremely effective trigger word. The words "toxic" and "chemical" (mentioned 4 times) are trigger words for people who have impaired scientific understanding.

Despite the doses in question being tremendously low, the fear monger is sure to add that bit about arsenic being "fatal" in high doses, because the alluded to threat of death is so effective at triggering the reader's emotions.

The fear monger takes every opportunity to put emphasis on "children" in order to evoke parental emotion in readers.

In the last example, the fear monger brings up feces in a conversation about food, provoking an involuntary disgust reaction on the part of the reader.

Fear tactic #3: Vicious circle.
... it's okay to eat arsenic, but dangerous to drink elderberry juice or raw milk.
... arsenic that's pooped out by the chickens gets consumed and concentrated in the tissues of cows.
The fear monger waves yarns that complete a vicious circle, or self-reinforcing narrative. In the first example above, this issue is tied together with other issues likely to cause an emotional reaction in the reader. The reader is assumed to also be outraged by the controversy over raw milk and elderberry juice. This triggers an emotional response on recall of that outrage, which suspends reason, and reinforces a narrow-minded, tribal mentality.

In other words, the reader who has already jumped on the raw milk band wagon will be biased towards agreeing with the opinion of the fear monger, because the fear monger has used the other issue to gain trust of the reader.

The second narrative draws on unnamed fear of contamination from cow meat. This is a red herring, having nothing to do with the scientific question. But it serves the fear monger by engendering their misplaced trust among a broader range of their readership. Namely, those subconsciously triggered by mad cow disease, bovine growth hormone, etc.

Don't be fooled. Don't be scared. Be smart.

Wouldn't Arsenic Chicken be a cool band name? lol

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