* Pfizer voluntarily suspends sales of 3-Nitro drug
* Chickens treated with drug had higher carcinogen levels
* Suspension will go into effect in 30 days-FDA (Adds details on drug, company and industry reaction)
WASHINGTON, June 8 (Reuters) - Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) has agreed to suspend U.S. sales of a popular poultry drug after a study found the drug increased levels of a carcinogen in chickens, U.S. health officials said on Wednesday.
A study from the Food and Drug Administration found that chickens treated with Pfizer’s 3-Nitro drug had higher levels of inorganic arsenic, a known cancer-causing substance.
“The levels we detected were very low, but the fact that they represent an added source of human exposure to a carcinogen, and a source that’s avoidable, led the FDA to take action,” Bill Flynn, deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, told reporters.
Arsenic is an odorless and tasteless element that occurs naturally in water, air, soil and food and comes in two types. Organic arsenic, which is present in 3-Nitro, is thought to be harmless.
But recent scientific reports have indicated that organic arsenic could transform into inorganic arsenic, a known human carcinogen.
Following up on the reports, FDA scientists detected higher levels of inorganic arsenic in the livers of chickens treated with 3-Nitro compared to the livers of chickens not treated with the drug.
But the levels detected were low, and the FDA said eating chickens treated with 3-Nitro did not pose a health risk.
The National Chicken Council, which represents companies that produce more than 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States, urged consumers to “continue to buy and eat chicken as they always have.”
The amount of inorganic arsenic found in the chicken livers is equivalent to the amount in an eight-ounce glass of drinking water, Pfizer said.
“It’s right in line with other normal, natural occurrences of inorganic arsenic,” said Scott Brown, senior director of metabolism and safety at Pfizer Animal Health. “But it’s an avoidable exposure, so we’re doing the prudent thing by suspending sales while we examine the study in more detail.”
3-Nitro, or roxarsone, is produced by Alpharma, a subsidiary of Pfizer, and has been used by poultry producers since the 1940s as a feed medicine to help control coccidiosis, an intestinal parasitic disease.
Alpharma said it would suspend U.S. sales of 3-Nitro 30 days from today in order to give animal producers time to switch to other products.
3-Nitro’s biggest market is in the United States, the FDA said, but it is also used in poultry in other countries, including Canada, Mexico and Australia.
Israel-based Teva TEVA.O, the world’s largest generic drugmaker, and Bulgarian private drug company Huvepharma are among other companies that make drugs to treat coccidiosis, the most common type of infection in poultry.
Alpharma also produces the only other feed medicine that contains arsenic, nitarsone, marketed in the United States, though the FDA said it is less widely used than roxarsone. (Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Carol Bishopric)