Many name-brand rice and rice products contain varying levels of carcinogenic arsenic, according to the results of separate sets of tests recently announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Consumer Reports.
The findings have led Consumer Reports and Attorney General Lisa Madigan to call on the FDA to set limits for arsenic in food, particularly baby food, and to caution the public about eating large amounts of rice and feeding it to small children.
Parents and caregivers should moderate the amount of rice products they feed their children, while the FDA sets standards to limit this known carcinogen in our food.
What may simply be high levels of arsenic for adults could be potentially much worse for a small child when we consider the body weight of an infant compared to an adult. If a child’s body can only filter 2-3 micrograms per day and but the intake is 4 micrograms over a period of time a buildup of toxins will accrue.
It is almost impossible to say how dangerous these levels are without a benchmark from the federal government. Consumer Reports uses New Jersey’s drinking water standard – a maximum of 5 micrograms in a liter of water – as comparison because it is one of the strictest in the country. But it is unclear how accurate it is to compare arsenic levels in water and arsenic levels in rice – most people consume more water than rice, so drinking water standards may need to be tougher.
Consumer groups are pressuring the Food and Drug Administration to set federal guidance on allowable levels of arsenic in rice, prompting the agency to study the issue and consider possible new standards.
In conjunction with the Consumer Reports tests, the Illinois attorney general’s office performed its own lab analysis on infant rice formula, revealing “troubling levels of inorganic — or toxic — arsenic,” the office said.
So far, FDA officials say they have found no evidence that suggests rice is unsafe to eat. The agency is in the middle of conducting a study of 1,200 samples of grocery-store rice products – short and long-grain rice, cereals, drinks and even rice cakes – to measure arsenic levels.
Arsenic is thought to be found in rice in higher levels than most other foods because it is grown in water on the ground, optimal conditions for the contaminant to be absorbed in the rice. There are no federal standards for how much arsenic is allowed in food.
Arsenic is naturally present in water, air, food and soil in two forms, organic and inorganic. According to the FDA, organic arsenic passes through the body quickly and is essentially harmless. Inorganic arsenic – the type found in some pesticides and insecticides – can be toxic and may pose a cancer risk if consumed at high levels or over a long period.
How much organic and inorganic arsenic rice eaters are consuming, and whether those levels are dangerous, still remain to be seen. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says consumers shouldn’t stop eating rice, though she does encourage a diverse diet just in case. “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,” she said.