Arsenic in Rice Spurs Call for FDA Limits

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Sep. 24, 2012 12:00 am  

Consumer Reports last week reported that it had found "worrisome" levels of inorganic arsenic, a cancer-causing agent, in rice and a number of rice products consumed widely in the U.S. and called for the federal government to set limits on arsenic in rice.

The report prompted a flurry of statements from the government and the rice-producing industry and mirrors findings by the consumer watchdog organization late last year on "worrisome" levels of arsenic in apple and grape juices. That report also led Consumer Reports to call for government limits for arsenic in the juices.

The consumer group tested more than 200 rice products and found varying levels of arsenic, including some that it termed "significant."

"White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas generally had higher levels of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic than rice samples from elsewhere (India, Thailand and California combined)," Consumer Reports said.

Arkansas is the top rice-producing state in the U.S., producing about 48 percent of rice grown in the nation. Any widespread consumer concerns about the grain's safety have the potential to disrupt what is a $1 billion industry in the state and what is, according to the USA Rice Federation, a $34 billion industry nationwide.

Almost concurrently with the Consumer Reports statement, the federal Food & Drug Administration issued its own statement saying that it planned to study arsenic levels in rice further. The FDA also released what it called preliminary data on arsenic in rice and rice products.

The agency said, however, that it currently lacks "an adequate scientific basis to recommend changes by consumers regarding their consumption of rice and rice products."

The USA Rice Federation and the Arkansas Rice Federation, industry trade groups, responded with their own statements, which echoed each other.

"Arkansas rice continues to be a nutritious food and an important part of a healthy diet," said Ben Noble, executive director of the Arkansas Rice Federation. "We understand that ‘arsenic' is an alarming word but consumers should know that arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our air, water, rocks and soil. It's always been in our food supply and no pesticides containing arsenic are used when growing Arkansas or U.S. rice."

Noble said that rice growers in the state were "committed to ensuring the quality and safety of rice and rice-based products," and emphasized that the FDA wasn't yet making any changes in its recommendations on rice consumption.

The Arkansas Rice Federation represents the Arkansas Rice Producers' Group, Arkansas Rice Council, Arkansas Rice Millers and Arkansas Rice Merchants.

Consumer Reports itself noted that arsenic occurs naturally in many foods and that there is no federal limit for arsenic in most foods. But it also added that the Environmental Protection Agency "assumes there is actually no ‘safe' level of exposure to inorganic arsenic."



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