I know that’s a pretty jarring headline for those who haven’t been following this issue, so let me explain:
In 2012, Consumer Reports released a groundbreaking report which showed that many common rice products contain levels of inorganic arsenic which exceed the amount allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency in drinking water. Arsenic is a known carcinogen that has also been implicated in many other health problems.
Despite this risk, however, rice cereal continues to be a commonly recommended first solid food for infants, even though babies are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of consuming arsenic, including potentially diminished intellectual function.
Now, for the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued draft industry guidance which would limit the amount of arsenic allowed in infant rice cereals to 100 parts per billion. According to the Times, one-half of the infant cereals currently on the market contain more than this recommended amount.
… [T]he new guidance does not go far enough in ensuring the health of all Americans. What about two-year olds and three-year olds? What about expectant mothers? This is about the health and well-being of our families. The FDA should immediately expand the guidance to include proposed action levels on all rice based products. In the meantime, Congress should pass the Reducing food-based Inorganic Compounds Exposure (RICE) Act, which would do just that.
Until that day comes, however, there’s obviously no way for consumers to know the arsenic levels in the various rice products they eat and serve their families, including rice cakes, rice milks and crisped rice cereals. And, ironically, arsenic may actually be higher in otherwise-healthier brown rice products due to the way rice plants tend to store the metal in the grain’s outer hull.
So what should concerned individuals do to limit their risk?
Consumer Reports offers the chart below with recommended serving limits on various rice products:
Pregnant women in particular may want to heed this advice, as elevated arsenic levels can cause pregnancy complications and even stillbirth. Another group that should take special notice of this problem are those on gluten-free diets, as they may be consuming more rice than the general population.
More guidance from Consumer Reports on avoiding arsenic from dietary sources, which also include apple juice and other items, can be found here.
[Hat tip to Politico‘s Morning Agriculture report for leading me to the DeLauro statement.]
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