“They ask us to make it happen. There’s no extra resources in the bill. In order to come up with the money, you would have to rob Peter to pay Paul. If you don’t have the people to make the necessary enforcement, that makes the law kind of hollow,” Hohenhaus said.
Hucker bristled at that comment. “He’s not the governor,” the delegate said. “He doesn’t control the budget. The governor can allocate the resources the law needs.”
Delmarva Poultry Industry, a lobby group, argued in hearings that state regulation was unnecessary because Roxarsone was a federally licensed and approved drug.
The lobby also said the voluntary suspension of the drug by Pfizer voided the need for a state ban, even though Pfizer could theoretically restart distribution of Roxarsone at any time.
That loophole is the reason Nachman and others question why the FDA did not suspend the drug. He said the agency waited too long to develop the test that discovered inorganic arsenic in the chicken. Inorganic arsenic has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and adverse pregnancy outcomes, Nachman said.
“Frankly, I call into question the stewardship of the FDA over veterinary drugs,” he said. “This is one example of many where it seems the FDA is falling short in terms of protecting public health.” The standards for arsenic levels in chicken were set in the 1950s, he said.
The FDA said that its monitoring of arsenic has been diligent and that there are alternatives on the market for Roxarsone. It recently finalized a plan to ask drug companies to voluntarily limit the amount of antibiotics in animal feed, based on concern that overuse of the medicine is creating drug-resistant bacteria that might affect humans.
Although Richardson no longer uses Roxarsone at Blizzard Farm in Wicomico County, he hopes that Pfizer will one day distribute it again and that Maryland will lift its ban. “It’s nice to have that tool in the toolbox,” he said.
Drew Koslow, the Choptank Riverkeeper, said farmers should consider the impact on water and land and not just production.
“That’s a narrow way of looking at the world,” Koslow said. “It’s a known human carcinogen. If you know something is poison, you don’t increase people’s exposure to it.”