September 21, 2012 — In response to growing concern about the levels of arsenic in rice and rice products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that they are beginning an investigation into the issue. So far, the FDA’s analysis of arsenic in rice has been consistent with the analysis conducted by Consumer Reports. Both agencies have found high levels of toxic, inorganic arsenic compounds in rice products, including rice cereals that are fed to infants.
The FDA has already tested approximately 1,200 samples of rice and products containing rice. The results of the FDA analysis will be complete by the end of 2012. Then the FDA will decide whether the problem warrants extra recommendations or dietary guidelines.
According to the researchers, “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.”
Consumer Reports found similar levels of arsenic in many products, including organic rice baby cereals, rice breakfast cereals, white and brown rice, and other products containing rice. The independent investigation also found that people who ate rice had 44% higher levels of arsenic compared to people who do not eat rice. People who ate brown rice had higher levels of arsenic than people who ate white rice.
Consumers Reports is advocating for the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the rice industry to set stricter standards for arsenic in food. This may involve developing types of rice that do not absorb arsenic as readily. Farmers could also phase out the use of pesticides and/or fertilizers containing arsenic. The government could also ban the feeding of arsenic-containing drugs and rice products to animals, whose manure is often used for fertilizer.
Arsenic is commonly found in the soil, any many foods contain low levels of arsenic that is not considered harmful. However, in the past, arsenic was commonly used in pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers that were spread on fields. In the United States, arsenic-laden chemicals were spread on cotton fields in the south-central U.S., where 76% of U.S. rice is now grown. Arsenic in water can also contaminate rice, which is grown in standing water.
Inorganic arsenic compounds are toxic chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic in humans. They have been linked to increased risks of long-term health diseases, including heart disease and cancer of the bladder, lung, and skin. These compounds have been identified in many foods, including rice, fruit juice, and fruit concentrates.
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