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Chicken meat found contaminated with high levels of arsenic

Updated Dec 06, 2016 05:42pm


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KARACHI: Samples of chicken meat collected from various spots in the city have been found to have high levels of arsenic. The city’s environment hasn’t yet recovered from the damaging effects of leaded-gasoline that was phased out in 2001 and still the major (lead) source directly or indirectly contaminating food is leaded-petrol.

These are some important findings of a three-year research which was shared on Monday at a seminar held at the Aga Khan University (AKU).

Titled Heavy metals, food, safety and child development, the seminar was organised by a research group at the department of community health sciences (CHS) at the AKU. The study was conducted by the department in collaboration with the Jichi Medical University of Japan.

The study identified important sources of lead and arsenic exposure among newborns, children (aged between one and three years) and pregnant women in both countries. Its area of study in Pakistan were Karachi and Gambat (Khaipur).

Giving a presentation on the exposure of arsenic and lead through common food sources, Dr Abdul Ghani said the World Health Organisation (WHO) withdrew the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI) for ingestion of lead and arsenic from all sources (25mcg per kilogram of bodyweight) in 2011 and hadn’t yet set revised safe limits.

There were no safe limits for lead and arsenic in food and ideally it should be free from these chemicals.

“In comparison with potato and lentils cooked in different types of utensils, poultry chicken meat contained 15 times higher concentration of arsenic (between 41ng/g and 47ng/g),” he said, suggesting that arsenic-based chicken feed and vaccines might be the source of contamination.

Asked if it’s safe to eat chicken meat contaminated with arsenic, he argued that since 40pc of children’s population suffered from severe malnutrition in the country and it’s the cheapest protein source for the public, the solution existed in eating chicken less, monitoring and regulating poultry farming and sale of chicken meat. “It’s not one time eating but frequent consumption of the same food that affects the body as metal traces accumulate in the body,” he explained.

Dr Zafar Fatmi, the principal investigator of the research, said the major source for lead exposure among pregnant women and newborns was found to be food followed by house-dust and respiratory dust.

“Lead from water and surma use was not found major contributors. The study also showed that the overall environment, including food, has the same isotopes as in petrol. This suggests that past exposure of lead from gasoline still affects the environment, although, the current level of lead in gasoline is according to the required standards,” he said.

According to the experts, there is no short-cut to get rid of the impact of leaded petrol and it will happen naturally over a course of time.

Highlighting the adverse impact of lead and arsenic on human body, he said both chemicals were of major public health concern since both elements had toxic effects that could cause irreversible neurological damage, especially in young children, and trigger a wide range of chronic diseases.

The women and children who took part in the study had blood lead levels significantly higher than the 5µg/dl (microgrammes per decilitre) used as a reference level for health risk by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sharing the study findings, Dr Ambreen Sahito said over 60 per cent of newborns and about 90 per cent of children had blood lead levels that exceeded CDC guidelines, a potential risk for lifelong health consequences.

Thirty-five percent of rural population had arsenic level more than the WHO recommended levels of 10mcg/I.

Animals and animal products such as meat, milk and milk products were found negatively associated with blood lead level. Blood lead levels were found higher in women eating rice regularly.

According to experts, exposure to lead can be limited by simple home activities, for instance, by maintaining hand hygiene and wet mopping.

Prof Asad Saeed from Karachi University, Seema Ashraf from the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority and S.M. Yahya representing the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency also spoke.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2016


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Comments (29) Closed

M. Emad Dec 06, 2016 08:53am

Higher levels of arsenic present almost all the cheap Chinese ingredients which are widely used in the South Asian poultry feeds producing industry.

Abid Orakzai Dec 06, 2016 08:59am

we are contaminated corrupt nation because we contaminated corrupt food

y-fi Dec 06, 2016 09:30am

Does it matter ?

Asif A. Shah Dec 06, 2016 09:57am


J.Khanm Dec 06, 2016 10:02am

I grow my own chicken in my garden. My oil is from my daily labour.

P.R.Koduri Dec 06, 2016 10:07am

Informative, relevant and actionable article. AKU has always been an outstanding institution and its alumni have made it known in many US medical institutions. The plague of private medical colleges lacking the most basic faculty has yet to invade Pakistan and hope it stays that way.

Mirza Qaleech BAG Dec 06, 2016 11:12am

@M. Emad and your point is?

gil Dec 06, 2016 12:18pm

Polluted drinking water, milk, air and now chicken. Inidia is the biggest enemy? You already killing yourself! Best greetings from Dhaka and Kolkata: Here happens the same!

asgher Dec 06, 2016 12:32pm

I bet we as Pakistanis have never ever consumed chemical free chicken and milk. There is a huge market for these pure products. A huge profit bucket for any investor who can accommodate the demand.

atif khan Dec 06, 2016 12:35pm

Can someone test the vegetables coming to India for oxytocin too?? I would appreciate to Ban the import if found.

nasir siddique Dec 06, 2016 01:06pm

I would have been surprised if the levels had been normal. Corruption and mismanagement is rampant throughout the country so you would also expect food to be targeted. Profits to be made out of this are huge.

Changez Khan Dec 06, 2016 01:26pm

This is the job and responsibility of sitting government to make sure healthy food is provided to citizens. Where are all the food inspectors? How much they are paid to keep their mouth shut?

Syeda shah Dec 06, 2016 01:33pm

In pakistan, eating means killing ur ownself. Nothing is profitable at all.

K.T.H. Dec 06, 2016 01:40pm

I hope that in this research AKU compared the levels in (a) people who eat chicken with (b) a control group of people who do not eat chicken. That would have confirmed that the arsenic level is quite similar in both the groups and that it is gained from the environment and not from chicken.

Skeptic Dec 06, 2016 04:30pm

There goes my Chicken Tikka I had for lunch!~

M. Siddique Dec 06, 2016 05:36pm

It is institutional failure. Most probably there is no apathy to feel the need that water supply system needs to cleaned. Do we know for sure there is no leaded gasoline in use. Has the motor vehicle department checked the automobile exhausts on regular basis? There is so much can be done.

Adnan Dec 06, 2016 05:49pm

Pakistan is in tatters almost. PUNJAB CM has not concern of the crazy urbanization of Lahore. Sindh govt. is absent as in the last 20 years.

A Dec 06, 2016 06:29pm

Same condition, more or less, in India.At last we both know the reason why we are crazy and stupid to waste 70 years in fighting ..arguing ...debating ...not paying attention to the basics.

ghazala Dec 06, 2016 08:07pm

Tackling pollution and contamination of our food sources is the need of the hour. It is this that is more deadly than any other threat. All Pakistanis , the government and the public must demand and institute proper sanitation in their localities and devise a proper , safe and efficient method for waste disposal and maintaining hygiene.

Ahad Dec 06, 2016 08:45pm

I made a brief survey of fish meal when I was looking into export of the product.what I found apart from the horrendous stench, which dispersed into everything was fish meal manufacturers care only about the protein content of the feed regardless of where that protein comes from.

Unk Dec 06, 2016 09:58pm

Eat veg food. Control weight.

Smart Solutions Dec 07, 2016 12:07am

For how long contaminated chicken meat has been selling to consumers?Are health inspectors doing their job as they supposed to do?

Linny Dec 07, 2016 04:07pm

Don't worry. Once CPEC is implemented. All will be fine. Arsenic levels will be zero.

Pooran Chand Dec 07, 2016 10:20pm

Now we have a new dish, Chicken Arsenic! Eat Chicken and Die will be new motto of poultry industry.

Kidding aside, people need to stop eating chicken or any other kind of meat and become vegetarian i.e. if they want to live.

True Indian Dec 07, 2016 10:32pm

Arsenic is a dangerous chemical which damages Kidney slowly if it is more than permissible limit, body can consume. Ground water is the biggest source of Arsenic. One should use RO water filter which makes Water completely Arsenic or all other harmful chemicals free. It also makes Bacteria free water.

Black Diesel Dec 08, 2016 01:26am

Yes.. Now our generation will become the people with lead content. I think we should name ourselves lead man Just like Iron man....!!!

white noise Dec 08, 2016 04:00am

if you ever see how the chicken feed is produced, you would not eat chicken !!! cheap vaccines, lead in water table from industries, since we do not have any environmental laws and everything runs amok, what else can you expect?

kit kit Dec 08, 2016 05:53am

Why are chickens kept in these conditions. people in the west are moving away from chicken farms because of the cruelty yet Pakistan land of natural farms is moving to this

LAHORI KID Dec 08, 2016 07:22am

Politicians are found contaminated with high levels of corruption every year, yet here we are, still living, contaminated chicken is a very minor issue.