Our statistical analysis of the FDA’s test results from more than 1,300 samples found that among types of white rice, the parboiled version tended to have the highest levels of inorganic arsenic, with an average of 114 parts per billion (ppb). Instant rice had the lowest, averaging 59 ppb. Also noteworthy: Medium-grain rice from California tended to have lower levels of inorganic arsenic than rice originating from other areas of the U.S. Although inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen, there are no federal limits for it in juice, rice, or most other food.
In some cases, the inorganic arsenic levels that the FDA found in rice products were even higher than Consumer Reports’ test results from 2012. That was true for rice beverages that are used as a milk replacement, which underscores our advice that children under the age of 5 should not have rice drinks as part of a daily diet.
The FDA found elevated levels of arsenic in beer after testing 65 samples, all of which the agency says included some form of rice as an ingredient. The results showed that 10 of them contained inorganic arsenic levels that ranged from 15 ppb to 26 ppb, significantly more than the federal drinking-water limit of 10 ppb for total arsenic. The agency plans no further testing of beers. Based on its full data, the FDA is “conducting a risk assessment as the next step in a process to help manage possible risks associated with the consumption of rice and rice products,” says Theresa Eisenman, an FDA spokeswoman.
Recent scientific evidence suggests that those risks can be significant. Last July researchers in the United Kingdom and India published a groundbreaking study providing the first evidence that frequently eating rice with high amounts of total arsenic can actually lead to genetic damage in cells associated with cancer.
The study measured damage to chromosomes within cells obtained from the urine of more than 400 adult study participants in an area of India with low arsenic in drinking water. Those who ate about 2½ to 3 cups of cooked rice per day containing more than 200 ppb of total arsenic excreted more genetically damaged cells than those eating rice with less arsenic.
The study noted that more than 10 percent of the rice in China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh is estimated to have arsenic concentrations exceeding 200 ppb, while in the U.S., more than 50 percent of the rice is estimated to contain arsenic at those elevated levels. More research is needed to see whether the study’s results would apply to Americans, who eat less rice and generally have better nutrition.