Researchers from Dartmouth reported today that potentially high levels of arsenic have been found in brown rice syrup, a primary ingredient in many organic foods.
Environmental chemist Brian P. Jackson found what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers dangerous amounts of arsenic in several organic food products, including organic infant formula whose main ingredient is brown rice syrup.
Other products that include the sweetener are some cereal bars, energy bars and energy “shots” consumed by many athletes, according to the study published today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The list of products, not listed by brand name, follow recent reports about trace levels of arsenic discovered in apple juice and previous reports of the poison in rice. Researchers point out that rice is among one group of plants that are efficient in taking arsenic from the soil.
Jackson explained to Makiko Kitamura of Bloomberg: “In the absence of regulations for levels of arsenic in food, I would certainly advise parents who are concerned about their children´s exposure to arsenic not to feed them formula where brown rice syrup is the main ingredient.”
Arsenic has long been recognized as a contaminant in found primarily in drinking water, with dangerous levels pegged at federal limit of 10 parts per billion, there are currently no federal thresholds for arsenic in juices or most foods.
Legislation was introduced earlier this month in the US House of Representatives calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish standards for arsenic and lead in fruit juices, writes Kitamura for Bloomberg.
The FDA has been sampling and testing a variety of “more conventional” rice products, including rice crackers and rice cereals, “to evaluate what the risk is and what the levels are in these products” said Siobhan DeLancey, a spokeswoman for the agency´s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told Anne Allen of ABC News.
Depending on what the testing reveals, she said there was “a possibility” that the agency would set a threshold for arsenic levels in rice. The FDA previously set a “level of concern” of 23 parts per billion of arsenic for fruit juices, the only other food to have such a designated level.
“The bottom line is this shows there´s a need for FDA to figure out some limits on this and put that out there,” Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C., told Allen. She said FDA needs to take a broader approach toward arsenic in what we eat, rather than going “food by food.”
Consumer Reports magazine published results of arsenic testing last month showing nearly 10 percent of juice samples from five brands exceeded federal drinking-water standards for arsenic. Most of the arsenic was inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, according to the study.
The potential presence of the chemical element in formula is “particularly worrisome for babies because they are especially vulnerable to arsenic´s toxic effects,” the Dartmouth researchers said.
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