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FDA study says amount of arsenic in rice is low

By Mary Clare Jalonick

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:54 a.m. HST, Sep 06, 2013

WASHINGTON » The Food and Drug Administration says consumers shouldn't worry too much about levels of arsenic in rice -- but should vary their diets just in case.

The agency released a study today of arsenic in 1,300 samples of rice and rice products that is the largest study to date looking at the carcinogen's presence in that grain. Consumer groups have pressured the FDA to set a standard for the amount of arsenic that can be present in rice products.

The study shows varying levels, with the most arsenic in brown rice and the least in instant rice. Infant cereal and infant rice formulas are also at the low end of the spectrum.

The FDA says the amounts are so small that rice is safe to eat and there isn't any concern of immediate or short-term adverse health effects. But the agency said it is still studying the long-term effects of consuming rice.

Rice is thought to have arsenic in higher levels than most other foods because it is grown in water on the ground, optimal conditions for the contaminant to be absorbed.

Arsenic is naturally present in water, air, food and soil in two forms, organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic passes through the body quickly and is essentially harmless. Inorganic arsenic -- the type found in some pesticides and insecticides -- can be toxic and may pose a cancer risk if consumed at high levels or over a long period.

The FDA is looking into how much much organic and inorganic arsenic rice eaters are consuming, and whether those levels are dangerous. The agency will conduct a risk assessment with the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency to further measure those effects.

The government, along with the public health community, has long encouraged consumers to vary their diets to minimize risk. Pediatricians, for example, have moved away from only recommending rice cereal as a baby's first solid food. There is evidence that other grains and even meats and fruits and vegetables can be just as healthy, says Dr. Stephen Daniels of Children's Hospital Colorado, the chairman of the nutrition committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Daniels said the FDA results are "reassuring in many ways" and parents who have been giving their infants rice cereal should not be concerned.

Average levels of arsenic in the study ranged from 2.6 to 7.2 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving. Though the long-term effects are still unknown, that amount is tiny -- a microgram is one-millionth of a gram.

Still, it is almost impossible to say how dangerous these levels are without a benchmark from the federal government. The advocacy group Consumer Reports, which is pushing for FDA to create standards, uses New Jersey's drinking water standard -- a maximum of 5 micrograms in a liter of water -- as comparison because it is one of the strictest in the country. But it is unclear how accurate it is to compare the risk of arsenic consumption in water and the risk of consumption in rice, as most people consume more water than rice.

The FDA study looked at rice from the United States, with some of the highest levels of arsenic found in rice grown in Southern states. It also looked at rice from Asia. The FDA said its study was not large enough to evaluate specific brands.

FDA toxicologist Suzanne C. Fitzpatrick said that because arsenic is naturally occurring it is going to be in food, and because rice is grown in water it will always have higher levels.

"It's not something that we can just pull off the market," she said.

The rice industry said today that it is working with the FDA and is encouraged by the results of the study. The industry has been conducting several of its own studies to try and figure out how to reduce arsenic levels, including investigating different ways to manage the water in which rice is grown and looking at processing and rinsing methods to see if there are ways to reduce arsenic levels.

Consumer groups said they also are pleased that the FDA is taking a hard look at arsenic in rice. Urvashi Rangan of Consumer Reports said the group hopes the FDA eventually sets specific guidelines for arsenic so growers will implement more steps to rid rice of the carcinogen.

Dr. Steven Abrams of Texas Children's Hospital agreed that varying diet is the way to go. Rice "is a healthy food but it's not the only healthy food," he said.

Still, parents should not overreact and shy away from rice completely, he said. "We don't want to over-interpret the concerns so that we don't give kids the foods that they need," Abrams said.

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Anonymous wrote:
LONG TERM EXPOSURE TO LOW LEVEL IS JUST AS BAD. The FDA needs to tell the complete truth so USA citizens can make informed decisions...
on September 6,2013 | 11:41AM
ryan02 wrote:
The article says, "it is unclear how accurate it is to compare the risk of arsenic consumption in water and the risk of consumption in rice, as most people consume more water than rice." However, the article also says the 5 micro-gm limit in water is per LITER, while the 2.6 - 7.2 micro-gm range in rice is per SERVING. I assume most people don't drink a full liter of water in a single serving, so maybe the fact that the 5 micro-gm limit in water already takes into account the fact that people drink a lot of water? How much would that be broken down per serving? People average 2.5 cups of water a day, so that's 0.59 liters. That means 2.95 micro-gm average per day from water. So even taking the very lowest level in rice (2.6), that means a single serving of rice has almost the arsenic limit allowed per day in water. And the upper level (7.2) is 2-1/2 times as high. No matter how they try to spin it, it doesn't look good. I suspect the FDA has been getting pressure from the rice lobby (remember when the USDA changed the food pyramid to those idiotic and useless vertical stripes, because of pressure from food lobbies? Yeah, that's how much we can trust the government with our health).
on September 6,2013 | 12:16PM
Shh wrote:
Exactly. Sometimes you need to trust your own judgement and not the government. Believe me, I find myself trusting my own judgement most of the time and I am very happy that I have. It's sad that I can't trust my own government now days and that's because more and more I'm hearing more negative things about out government then positive.
on September 6,2013 | 01:39PM
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