Do I sound alarmist? Perhaps, but any time there’s actually arsenic in my food, I reserve the right to feel a little alarmed. Sure arsenic occurs naturally in water, soil and air, but this is organic arsenic. Although inorganic arsenic is thought to be most harmful, new evidence may suggest that even organic arsenic such as DMA and MMA may also cause harm. What we’re talking about here is inorganic arsenic that occurs in pesticides and is a carcinogen known to cause diabetes, cancer, vascular disease and lung disease.
Dangerously high arsenic levels detected in rice products
So what’s all this about then? Well the magazine Consumer Reports recently released a study on arsenic levels in rice which resulted in an appeal to the FDA to limit the levels of that carcinogen in rice and rice products: “Worrisome arsenic levels were detected in infant cereals, typically consumed between 4 and 12 months of age. Among the four infant cereals tested, we found varying levels of arsenic, even in the same brand. Gerber SmartNourish Organic Brown Rice cereal had one sample with the highest level of total arsenic in the category at 329 ppb.”
Find a full report on arsenic levels and the products that were tested here.
Which rice has the highest levels of arsenic?
The report found that brown rice had higher levels of arsenic as the carcinogen was stored in the husks and that rice from the southern states had higher levels than rice from California or Asia.
Why does rice have such high arsenic levels?
Rice grows in water on the ground, providing optimal conditions for the contaminant to be absorbed. So far the FDA have resisted issuing warnings about the levels of arsenic as they are currently conducting their own study of 1200 food samples to ascertain their arsenic levels. The FDA doesn’t have any set standards for acceptable levels of arsenic in foods.
In a cautionary move, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, suggested diversifying diets to include other grains; “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.”
The FDA will not make any recommendations until their study has been completed at the end of the year.
Reaction from US Rice Producers
Rice producers in the USA have decried the report as fatuous on the grounds that they are not using pesticides containing arsenic; “We understand that ‘arsenic’ is an alarming word, but we believe it is important for consumers to know that arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our air, water, rocks and soil,” the group said in a statement. Phew! I for one feel so much better… said no consumer ever.
Yes we know that arsenic occurs naturally, but it’s the inorganic arsenic that concerns me. Perhaps the responsible thing to do is to wait for the FDA report and their recommendations. But until then, I for one will be giving the rice babies a skip.
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