Consumer groups urge standards for arsenic in rice
Published Wednesday, September 19, 2012 6:18AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 19, 2012 11:39PM EDT
Concern is being raised about arsenic levels in rice after a consumer magazine discovered “troubling” amounts of the potential toxin in more than 200 samples of rice and rice products.
The magazine Consumer Reports said Wednesday that it found “measurable amounts” of inorganic and organic arsenic in 223 products which included crackers, rice vinegar and even organic baby cereal.
Some of the brands tested by the magazine are available in Canada.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledged the findings but said there’s not enough evidence to suggest that rice or rice products are not safe for consumers to eat.
“Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains -- not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a statement.
Arsenic is a chemical element that occurs naturally in air, water and soil. The inorganic type, present in some pesticides, can be a carcinogen if ingested at high levels. The organic variety is considered less harmful and passes through the body relatively quickly, according to the FDA.
The element is found in foods such as grains and produce that absorb it through soil and water. Arsenic is generally more present in rice because its growing conditions allow it to absorb the toxin more easily.
Medical conditions such as skin and lung cancer, as well as heart disease, have been linked to long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic. Ingesting high levels of the element can also irritate the stomach and result in nausea, vomiting and other types of sickness.
There are currently no maximum levels for arsenic levels in rice in the U.S. or Canada.
In the Wednesday report, the publisher of Consumer Reports proposed that an industry standard be established for arsenic levels in rice. Consumers Union encouraged industry stakeholders to develop types of rice that have lower levels of arsenic, especially for products marketed to infants.
The FDA, which is also studying levels of arsenic in rice, shared preliminary results of its own tests on Wednesday -- released after the Consumer Reports study was published.
The preliminary data included 200 of 1,200 rice and rice products from the United States.
The FDA tests showed average levels of 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving. The Consumer Reports study discovered levelsof up to 8.7 micrograms.
There is no established maximum to judge whether these levels are concerning. However, Consumer Reports used New Jersey’s drinking water standard of 5 micrograms in a litre of water to compare.
The FDA expects to complete its own study by the end of the year.