Arsenic in Rice Reaches Alarming Levels: How to Keep Your Family Safe

Health Check 1

raw brown riceWe already have to worry about our food supply's stores of toxins like bisphenol A (BPA), mercury, E. coli ... But now, Consumer Reports has confirmed there's another, sweeping threat found in organic rice baby cereal, rice breakfast cereals, brown rice, white rice, and a bevy of other rice products on grocery store shelves ... Apparently, these meal staples -- often fed to kiddos -- contain "worrisome levels" of arsenic! Great, right? Just great!

But because the study was so big and the government has yet to declare what "safe" levels of the toxin actually are (ha, talk about an oxymoron), there's quite a bit of confusion about what this means. Here, what you need to know ...

What was tested: Consumer Reports looked at more than 200 samples of various rice products -- from big name labels and store brands to organic products and conventional ones. Some products were the kind aimed at gluten-free shoppers (think rice pasta).

What was found: Significant levels of inorganic arsenic and less toxic organic arsenic (but which is still of concern). Inorganic is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans. The liver, kidney, and prostate are also considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers. And the average total and inorganic arsenic levels were always higher for brown rice than for what. (And we thought by going brown, we'd be making a healthier decision -- what the heck?!) Here's a chart summarizing results of the CR tests for arsenic in rice or rice products.

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What the rice folks say: The vice president at the USA Rice Federation responded to this research by saying, "There is no documented evidence of actual adverse health effects from exposure to arsenic in U.S.-grown rice. And we believe the health benefits of rice must be properly weighed against the risks of arsenic exposure, which we believe are minimal."

What scientists say: Allan Smith, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley has done research that showed arsenic in public water in Chile and Argentina causes lung and bladder cancer and other diseases. He encourages federal government to do something about the levels of arsenic in rice now -- not after more research is conducted.

What's next: Currently, there are no federal maximums for arsenic in food. But this research has Consumer Reports calling for the FDA to set limits for arsenic in food, particularly baby food, and to caution the public about eating large amounts of rice and feeding it to small children. (In response, the agency said it will "prioritize further assessment" in order to make recommendations.) Consumer Reports also ask that EPA phase out the use of pesticides that contain arsenic; the USDA and EPA end the use of arsenic-laden manure as fertilizer; and the FDA ban the feeding of arsenic-containing drugs and animal byproducts to animals. Seems like a plan to me!

In the meantime ... Basically, while this is all alarming and hopefully the government steps up to the plate to make some significant changes, there's no need to panic. To reduce arsenic exposure, Consumer Reports offers these recommendations for numbers of servings of rice products a week.

Will this news change the foods you buy/eat? Do you agree the government needs to take action sooner rather than later?

 

Image via Rob & Dani/Flickr

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