In tests for arsenic in more than 1,300 samples of rice and rice products, the Food and Drug Administration has found levels vary but overall are far too low to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects.
The results, out Friday, represent the first time FDA has released broad numbers on arsenic’s presence in rice products. The findings show the highest average levels in brown rice, the lowest in rice wine. The brown rice had 160 parts per billion inorganic arsenic per serving, infant rice cereal 120 and rice wine 11.
Arsenic comes in two chemical forms, organic and inorganic. Inorganic arsenic is more common. It occurs in rocks and is a known human carcinogen. Organic arsenic is considered harmless.
The Environmental Protection Agency has set arsenic limits for drinking water at 10 parts per billion, by comparison. Officials note that Americans drink much more water than they eat rice. Except for apple juice, federal agencies have not yet detailed safe limits in other foods.
The arsenic accumulates in the hull, the outer portion of the rice, “so the more highly you refine and polish rice, the more arsenic is reduced,” said Donald Zink, an FDA senior science adviser.
Last year the magazine Consumer Reports called for the FDA to set limits for acceptable arsenic content in rice after it found levels potentially above what some consider safe.The magazine editors are very pleased that the FDA has released the new numbers, said Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety for Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports, based in Yonkers, N.Y. “It’s an important step that needed to be taken to deal with a food product that’s particularly prone to taking up arsenic,” she said.
The most important point for consumers is that they should diversify the grains they eat, she said. That’s especially the case with young children, who are often given rice-based cereals as their first solid food. “Infants do not need to eat rice cereal every single day, there are many different grains to chose from,” Rangan said.
If the extremely low levels of arsenic found in rice were a problem, health effects might be seen worldwide, said Deborah Willenborg, spokeswoman for the USA Rice Federation, a rice trade group based in Washington, D.C. Americans eat on average 25 pounds of rice per person per year, compared with 210 pounds in China and 365 pounds in Vietnam.
“FDA has provided American consumers with renewed assurances that there is no need to change a well-balanced diet that includes rice, which it notes is a life-long dietary staple for many people,” Willenborg said.
“Arsenic levels found in rice represent no immediate health concern. FDA has said in their most recent statement that arsenic levels in rice are too low to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects. There are no reported instances of illness nor are there any scientific studies that directly connect inorganic arsenic in food in general, nor rice specifically, to adverse human health effects,” Willenborg said.
Arsenic occurs naturally in soil worldwide. Most crops don’t take it up. However, rice is grown in flooded fields. That changes the soil chemistry, releasing arsenic locked up in soil minerals so it can be taken up by the rice’s roots. The amount of arsenic in rice varies by local conditions. In the USA, California rice has lower arsenic levels than rice from Texas and Arkansas.
“Nobody wants arsenic, period,” Hamburg said. “But it’s a fact of life, it’s in soil.”
The agency is currently conducting a risk assessment that will consider how much rice and rice products Americans eat and whether there is any possible danger due to long-term exposure at the very low levels of arsenic found in these food items, said Michael Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods.
The United States is at the forefront of the issue. The results published Friday are the largest data set yet compiled on arsenic in rice products, Hamburg said.
Hamburg and Taylor met with rice growers and researchers in California’s Sacramento delta earlier this week to better understand the issues faced by growers. “There’s no magic wand to reducing these levels but there’s a lot of collaboration looking at ways to possibly reduce arsenic levels through growing and processing practices,” Taylor said.
Arsenic levels don’t appear to be rising in rice. Zink said his team analyzed rice samples that were decades old “and they were identical to what we were seeing in modern samples.”
However, Rangan said humans may be compounding the problem in areas where chicken manure is used as a fertilizer. “The chickens are fed the organic version of arsenic, for growth promotion and disease protection. It passes out as manure which is used as a fertilizer.” Whether this increases levels in rice isn’t known.
Chicken producers disputed the claim. Some chickens raised for meat used to be given feed that contained a product called Roxarsone, which included safe levels of organic arsenic, said Thomas Super, vice president for communications with the National Chicken Council in Washington D.C.
“Even though the science shows that such low levels of arsenic do not harm chickens or the people eating them, this product was removed from the market in 2011 and it is no longer used in raising broilers in the United States. No other products containing arsenic are currently used in broiler meat production in the U.S.” he said.
If FDA decides that arsenic levels in rice are of concern, it may consider proposing limits, such as an action level, which is a level that it considers to be protective of public health. FDA would consider such an action level, in addition to other factors, when considering whether to bring enforcement action in a particular case. This summer the agency set an action level for arsenic in apple juice of 10 parts per billion.
source: USA Today By Elizabeth Weise
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