A seminar “Heavy Metals, Food, Safety and Child Development” was held at Agha Khan University recently. During it, some alarming information came to light about the quality of chicken meat sold in Karachi.
It was found that chickens sold in the market possessed dangerous levels of lead and arsenic, both of which adversely affect an individual’s heath.
The research, conducted in collaboration with Jichi Medical University, Japan examined how new-born children and pregnant women who were exposed to lead and arsenic could be affected. The study took a look at the incidence of lead and arsenic levels in both Pakistan and Japan.
Dr. Abdul Ghani, while giving a presentation on exposure of arsenic and lead through common food sources, said that World Health Organization removed the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake for lead and arsenic for all food sources back in 2011 and hasn’t revised the limits yet.
Here are some of the main findings of the 3 year-old research.
Arsenic Found to Be 15 Times Higher in Chickens Than Any Other Food
Dr. Ghani said that it was found that poultry chicken meat contained 15 times more arsenic than lentils and potatoes cooked in different utensils. Chicken feed and vaccines were blamed as the main sources of arsenic in chickens.
Chicken meat samples collected from different areas within Karachi were found to have high levels of arsenic. High levels of lead were also detected in various food sources. The biggest source of lead contamination in the food was found to be leaded-petrol.
Surprisingly, leaded-petrol was phased out successfully from Karachi in 2001, yet it is still somehow being used in the city and contaminating the food.
Reduced Intake is The Solution
When asked whether its safe to eat arsenic contaminated chicken, the doctor replied that the solution is reducing its intake and not stopping it entirely. He said that 40% of the children suffer from malnutrition and the cheapest source of protein is still chicken.
It’s not just about one time consumption. But frequent consumption of the same food affects the body as metal traces accumulate in the body.
As for lead exposure, the main source of it is drinking water in the city.
According to the same study, the main source of arsenic was found to be boiled rice and potatoes for pregnant women. For children it was food and house dust.
High Levels of Lead Found in Blood
The women and children who took part in the study were found to have very high amounts of lead in their blood. Animals and animal products such as meat and milk were also associated with high lead levels in the blood.
A blood lead level of 5 micrograms per decilitre is deemed a health risk. According to Dr. Ambreen Sahito over 60% of newborns and 90% of children within the age of 1-3 years had blood lead levels higher than 5 micrograms/dl.
The experts say that lead exposure can be reduced by following simple hygiene. Washing hands regularly and properly and cleaning with a wet mop will help get rid of dust. Following similar practices could help cut down the level of arsenic and lead exposure significantly.