Arsenic in Rice Spurs Call for FDA Limits

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

The Report
In its study, Consumer Reports said it had found that a number of rice products sold by grocery stores around the country contain arsenic, many at worrisome levels. The products, both organic and conventional, ranged from baby cereal to breakfast cereal to white and brown rice and included name brand and store labels.

"Arsenic not only is a potent human carcinogen but also can set up children for other health problems in later life," the organization said.

Because the FDA hasn't set a limit on arsenic in food, Consumer Reports looked to the EPA for a guideline. The EPA's limit for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion or ppb. Consumer Reports noted, however, that the 10 ppb standard was twice the 5 parts per billion that the environmental agency had initially proposed, so the consumer watchdog group set a guide of 5 ppb.

"Using the 5-ppb standard in our study, we found that a single serving of some rices could give an average adult almost one and a half times the inorganic arsenic he or she would get from a whole day's consumption of water, about 1 liter."

The tests examined both organic and inorganic arsenic. Of the two, inorganic is considered much more dangerous and is a known carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. The human body can metabolize organic arsenic but not inorganic.

Among other highlights of the Consumer Reports findings:

  • Some infant rice cereals, which are often the first solid foods babies are given, had inorganic arsenic levels five times higher than oatmeal or other alternatives.
  • Brown rice has higher total and inorganic arsenic levels.
  • Its study of federal health data showed that people who ate rice "had arsenic levels that were at least 44 percent greater than those who had not."
  • Certain ethnic groups - "including Mexicans, other Hispanics, and a broad category that included Asians" - were more highly affected.
  • The organization concluded that, based on its studies, the FDA should set limits for arsenic in rice and rice products and fruit juices.


The FDA said last week that it was collecting and analyzing about 1,200 samples of rice and rice products, a process that would be finished by the end of this year. The agency will then analyze the results and decide whether more recommendations are needed.

"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.

GMO Debacle
The arsenic findings come just a bit more than a year after U.S. rice farmers, including a number in Arkansas, and Bayer AG reached a $750 million settlement agreement over contamination of the U.S. rice supply by Bayer's genetically modified rice.

The $750 million settlement is in addition to previous settlements in which Bayer agreed to pay to some plaintiffs in various lawsuits over the Liberty Link rice. The plaintiffs include farmers, rice exporters, rice importers, rice mills and rice seed dealers.

Rice farmers said the contamination finding cost them millions of dollars in lost sales. 



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