FDA Finds Arsenic in Many Rice Products

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Federal food safety agency says cutting rice consumption would be premature.

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it found arsenic in many samples of rice and rice products. These findings are part of an ongoing study that will involve testing 1,200 rice products for arsenic by the end of the year.

Despite its findings, the FDA maintains that asking people to change their rice consumption levels would be premature. After the Agency has finished testing samples, it will do a follow-up risk assessment to determine what steps should be taken. In the meantime, the FDA advises consumers to “eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains.”

The FDA has monitored arsenic levels in food since 1991 through its Total Diet Study Program. Arsenic is a natural chemical found in the earth, air, and water. There are two types of arsenic, organic and inorganic compounds. Both forms are toxic, but the inorganic compound is particularly dangerous.  Long-term exposure to the inorganic compound has been linked to higher rates of heart disease and number of different cancers. Because of its ubiquitous nature, arsenic is present in some foods. Rice is known to absorb arsenic in soil and water at a higher rate than other grains.

The consumer watchdog organization, Consumer Reports, recently tested 60 rice products for arsenic and detected levels of the chemical similar to those found by the FDA. Both the FDA’s initial findings and the Consumer Reports study found that a number of samples contained more than 200 parts per billion of arsenic. There is currently no legal standard for arsenic levels in most food. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the standard for drinking water at 10 parts per billion.

While the FDA maintains that it lacks a sufficient basis for issuing recommendations at this time, Consumer Reports has suggested that people limit their weekly intake of rice. The group has also called on US regulators to set official arsenic limits for the grain.  Furthermore, Consumer Reports recommends that the EPA ban arsenic containing pesticides, arsenic-laden manure, and prohibit the feeding of arsenic-containing drugs and animal by-products to livestock.

The USA Rice Federation issued a statement praising the FDA’s cautious approach and criticizing Consumer Reports for “failing to add meaningfully to the public discourse” and publishing an article that is “incomplete and inaccurate on many levels.”