KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has temporarily suspended the use of the drug 3-Nitro or Roxarsone in poultry and swine production with immediate effect.
This follows reports that it is harmful to consumers.
Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Chua Tee Yong said the ministry was monitoring the development closely and was awaiting a detailed report from Pfizer and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the matter.
"I have communicated with the Veterinary Services Department director-general to order a temporary suspension of the drug with immediate effect.
"If it's confirmed (that it's detrimental), we'll remove it from the market as this relates to consumers' health and safety," he told the New Straits Times yesterday.
Chua said the drug was not in the ministry's list of banned substance but further checks were needed to ascertain the extent of its usage.
He added the department would also inform the livestock industry as well as veterinarians in the country on the latest development.
AFP reported that the decision by drug manufacturer, Prizer to suspend sales of the drug followed a study of 100 broiler chickens treated with 3-Nitro, or Roxarsone, had been found to have higher levels of inorganic arsenic in their livers than untreated chickens.
The levels detected were "very low" and did not pose a health risk, the FDA said.
The drug is marketed by Alpharma, a subsidiary of Pfizer, and has been used since the 1940s to ward off infection, make chicken skins more yellow and boost the birds' growth.
"The FDA detected increased levels of inorganic arsenic in the livers of chickens treated with 3-Nitro, raising concerns of a very low but completely avoidable exposure to a carcinogens," said Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods.
"We are pleased to announce that the company is cooperating with us to protect the public health."
The order will take effect in 30 days.
The FDA approved 3-Nitro in 1944, when it became the first arsenic-containing new animal drug product approved by the US regulatory agency.
It is fed mainly to chickens but is also used for pigs and turkeys. Most of its sales are in the US, though regulators there said they would share their findings with international governments.
A Pfizer spokesman said 3-Nitro is marketed for use in both poultry and swine in Canada, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
A Pfizer representative said that even though studies showed a low level of arsenic, the halting sales was a "prudent step" after the FDA research was released.