Arsenic in rice: There may be an additive in your rice that is downright scary – the dangerous toxin arsenic. Studies conducted over the last year revealed over 200 popular brands of rice products, from Kellogg’s cereal to Gerber baby food, contained elevated levels of arsenic, prompting the Food and Drug Administration to weigh in, reports CBS News on Sept. 6.
Scientist Urshavi Rangan, who conducted the Consumer Reports study last year, said their study left her “quite concerned.”
“We actually are quite concerned by the findings,” Rangan said. “This isn't a matter of trace amounts. These are moderate to moderately high levels of arsenic.”
Rangan expressed special concern for the potential effect on children. “We think children should consume even less because they are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of arsenic,” she said.
Arsenic is a known carcinogen but also occurs naturally in the environment. Organic arsenic is found in water and soil, but can also make its way into the earth through pesticides and wood-burning fuel. Rice is grown in wet fields, making the absorption of arsenic almost a given.
The FDA is now conducting more specific studies to determine what health impact there is, if any, and if consuming rice products with arsenic over long periods of time could lead to cancer.
Interim guidance released by the FDA says that “the levels of inorganic arsenic found in the samples are too low to cause immediate health damage,” but pledges the FDA will conduct additional studies.
“These are the next steps,” said Dr. Suzanne C. Fitzpatrick, senior advisor for toxicology at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “To look at exposure levels, to analyze the risk, and determine how to minimize that risk for the overall safety of consumers, including vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women,” she said.
The FDA only regulates arsenic in drinking water, not food. The agency's standard for arsenic in water is to allow no more than 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic.
Food expert Dr. Kenneth Spaeth emphasized that “natural levels is not a synonym for safe levels,” and stressed that long-term health risks are still unknown.