Arsenic in your food - Our findings show a real need for federal standards for this toxin. Consumer Reports - November 2012, pgs 22 - 27.
Consumer Reports recommends we limit our consumption of rice products.
The full article includes a chart of products and recommendations for consumption limits.
Arsenic is a potent human carcinogen and can set children up for other health problems in later life. The Environmental Protection Agency assumes there is no 'safe' level of exposure to inorganic arsenic. No federal limit exists for arsenic in most foods.
Rice producers argue that concerns about dietary exposure to arsenic in rice are overblown; that there is no proof of adverse health effects. Should we wait for the long term studies that have just recently begun to prove how harmful arsenic is before we get alarmed? High concentrations of arsenic in drinking water are known to result in the highest known toxic substance disease risks from any environmental exposure (DR Allan Smith, professor of epidemiology at U Cal, Berkeley).
Not only does brown rice have higher levels of arsenic but organic foods as well. Most disturbing is that organic rice baby cereal contain arsenic. Some had levels of inorganic arsenic at least five times more than alternatives like oatmeal. Consumer Reports findings include a number of white and brown rice brands, infant cereal including Gerber, hot cereal including Bob's Red Mill, and Cream of Rice, Ready to eat cereal including GM Rice Chex Gluten Free, Kellogg's Rice Krispies (as well as the gluten free), Rice Cakes and crackers, rice pastas, rice four, rice drinks.
Consumer Reports found that people who ate rice had arsenic levels that were 44% greater than those who had not.
As the article states, the US is the world's leading user of arsenic, and since 1910 about 1.6 million tons have been used for agricultural and industrial purposes, about half of it only since the mid-1960's. Residues from the decades of use of lead-arsenate insecticides linger in soil today even though they were banned in the 1980's. Other arsenical ingredients in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth are still permitted. Fertilizer made from poultry waste can contaminate crops with inorganic arsenic.
Rice is not the only source of arsenic in our food. It has been estimated that 17% of our dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic comes from rice, but 18% comes from fruits and fruit juices, while 24% come from vegetables. However, European stuides estimate that more than 50% of dietary exposure is from cereals mainly due to rice.
What can we do?
Lobby for a standard to be set for arsenic levels in rice and for prohibition of agricultural practices that lead to increases in arsenic in rice. These include pesticides, manure, drugs and animal byproducts given to animals. Pressure producers to develop rice that takes up less arsenic and use rice with the lowest possible levels especially for young children.
To get involved and find out what Consumers Union is doing, go to ConsumersUnion.org/arsenic
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