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FDA, Illinois Attorney General find levels of arsenic in rice comparable to Consumer Reports' findings

Consumer Reports News: September 19, 2012 04:23 PM

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Illinois Attorney General's office said on Wednesday that their own tests of rice and products such as infant rice cereals have detected the most toxic form of arsenic at levels that were consistent with Consumer Reports' results.

While there are federal limits for arsenic in drinking water, no such limits exist for most foods. Consumer Reports' food-safety experts have asked the FDA to set standards, starting with rice and fruit juices. Our previous tests found some apple and grape juices also can contain high levels of inorganic arsenic, the form that is known to cause cancer of the bladder, lung, and skin. It also increases risks for cardiovascular disease and poses special risks for pregnant women and young children.

"We understand that consumers are concerned about this matter. That's why the FDA has prioritized analyzing arsenic levels in rice," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D. The agency is analyzing a total of about 1,200 samples by the end of this year and on Wednesday released results for the first 200.

FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor, said, "The FDA's ongoing data collection and other assessments will give us a solid scientific basis for determining what action levels and/or other steps are needed to reduce exposure to arsenic in rice and rice products."

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also has called on the FDA to quickly adopt federal standards to limit dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic, especially in foods eaten by babies, based on lab tests her office commissioned that detected troubling levels of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereals, which often are a baby's first food. "Parents and caregivers should moderate the amount of rice products they feed their children, while the FDA sets standards to limit this known carcinogen in our food, " said Madigan. She suggested relying on Consumer Reports' recommendations for serving limits to reduce dietary exposure to arsenic for both children and adults.

While arsenic can get into rice and other plants from soil or water due to weathering of arsenic-containing minerals in the earth, humans are more to blame than Mother Nature for arsenic contamination in the U.S. today, in part due to residues of past arsenical insecticide use and continuing use of fertilizers that contain arsenic.

For more of our coverage, check out Arsenic in your food and Arsenic in your juice, plus our chart detailing the root of the arsenic problem and the video below from the Today Show, which features Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of consumer safety and sustainability for Consumer Reports.

FDA releases preliminary data on arsenic levels in rice and rice products [FDA]

—Andrea Rock

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