September 21, 2012 — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published a press release regarding their ongoing efforts to monitor levels of arsenic in rice. Their testing of products has been consistent with tests conducted by Consumer Reports, which found high levels of toxic, inorganic arsenic. This is especially troublesome in foods eaten by babies, such as infant rice cereals, which may be the baby’s first foods.
The FDA statement announced that they were testing 1,200 samples of rice and rice products. The data from the investigation will be public by 2012. Researchers at the FDA will review this information and decide whether to make additional recommendations or guidelines based on their findings.
“The FDA’s analysis of these initial samples found average levels of inorganic arsenic for the various rice and rice products of 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving.”
This level of arsenic is consistent with what Consumer Reports found. Arsenic can be found in organic rice baby cereals, rice breakfast cereals, brown rice, white rice, and other rice products on store shelves. Consumer Reports has found that people who eat rice have 44% more arsenic than people who do not eat rice. People who eat brown rice had more arsenic than those who ate white rice.
Consumer Reports is advocating for the FDA to set standards for arsenic levels in rice. They are also calling on the rice industry to reduce levels of arsenic in rice. This may involve developing strains of rice that absorb less arsenic, phasing out the use of pesticides that contain arsenic, ending the use of arsenic-laden fertilizer, and banning the feeding of arsenic-containing drugs and byproducts to animals (whose manure is then spread on rice fields).
Although some arsenic is naturally occurring in the soil, most arsenic contamination in rice is due to the use of pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers that contain the chemical. In the past, arsenic was used far more commonly than it is today. Most of the fields in the south central U.S. (where 76% of U.S. rice is grown) have residue of arsenic from pesticides used on cotton fields. Water can also be contaminated with arsenic, or at least promote the absorption of arsenic from soil in fields.
Inorganic arsenic compounds are known carcinogens that have been linked to skin, lung, and bladder cancer. Arsenic is found in soil and ground water, and has been identified in fruit juices, juice concentrates, and other food products. It has been linked to many long-term health problems, including cancer, heart disease, and death.
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