Official cum expert questions the veracity of the media reports and the researchers’ claims

The Consumer Affairs Authority has issued instructions for samples of broiler chicken in the market to be collected for testing following media reports, citing a study conducted by researchers of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura about toxic arsenic being found in chicken meat, specifically in the chicken liver.

Chairman of the Authority, W. Hasitha Tillekeratne said that depending on the findings of the report obtained in this regard from a recognized laboratory following the testing of the collected samples, they would take further action, including prosecution and confiscating stocks. There is also the question of whether the arsenic content in the chicken meat, specifically in the chicken liver, was harmful for human consumption. As Acting Director (Veterinary Research) at the Veterinary Research Institute, Gannoruwa of the Department of Animal Production and Health, Dr. S. Susil P. Silva, pointed out, finding arsenic in the liver was nothing now and hardly uncommon as it was the liver that did the detoxification of any toxic compound entering the body. Thus, zero arsenic is not the limit, prescribed by regulatory bodies around the world, including the Food and Drug Administration. If there is a high level of arsenic in the muscles of the animal or the level of arsenic is high or exceeding the limits or at an alarming level, then the matter must be looked into. According to an article by Gayan Sooriyarachchi/ Suriyarachchi in the Lankadeepa, ‘a research conducted by scientists attached to the Department of Chemistry of the Faculty of Applied Sciences of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura including Senior Lecturer at the Department, Dr. B.A. Perera, has revealed that the liver of certain broiler chicken varieties contained the carcinogenic heavy metal, arsenic. Apart from being cancer causing, arsenic can poison the internal systems of the human body. The study had been done using several broiler chicken varieties. Alongside giving 14 weeks old broiler chickens, food containing hormones, vitamins and minerals for the purpose of increasing growth, the said chickens are also given compounds containing arsenic as carbonic matter with the view of killing the small organisms residing within the intestines of the chickens. The latter is because the chickens are able to consume more food when the small organisms dwelling inside them die. However, even though the compounds are given as carbonic, organic matter, in the stomachs of the chickens, it breaks down into toxic arsenic compounds. The researchers found that despite cooking the said chicken varieties, separately using garlic, tamarind, lemon and lime, and spices, the arsenic content did not decrease. The long term consumption of chicken containing arsenic, the latter which gets deposited in the chicken liver, would result in arsenic getting stored in the human body, which in turn does not leave the body.’ When The Nation attempted to contact Dr. Perera on October 11, she informed us (the information was relayed via another person who said that Dr. Perera had informed and instructed her thus) that we could contact her at a later date. However, referring to the Lankadeepa article, Dr. Silva said that a broiler was kept at present only for approximately a maximum of 38 to 40 days (the maximum being six weeks – 42 days). He added that the short timeframe was owing to the superior genetic makeup (in selection) which in turn led to the growth rate being high and the quality of the feed. After the broiler has a weight of two and a half kilos, the growth rate slows down and it costs more to feed the bird to get that extra kilo of meat, making it commercially unviable. He also raised concerns about the source of the meat obtained for the said study, whether the meat had got contaminated on the shelf or not, and whether the right test protocol (for an example – atomic absorption or liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry) had been used in the analyzing of the arsenic content. He also raised concerns regarding the veracity of the claim that hormones and additives had been used. “Also, the article mentions a particular coccidiostat, as a chemical compound in feed, which has never been registered or used locally. This can affect the chicken market,” Dr. Silva explained.