Today the Food and Drug Administration released results of its tests for arsenic in rice and rice products. Reflecting tests of 1,300 samples, the government's data were similar to Consumer Reports' findings in its 2012 study of arsenic in various types of rice and rice products. Both studies included infant rice cereals, rice pasta, and other staples in gluten-free diets.
The government data and Consumer Reports' results underscore the importance of taking steps to prevent the long-term adverse health effects of arsenic exposure in the food supply. Arsenic may occur naturally, but human activities—including the use of arsenic-based compounds in agriculture—continue to contribute to arsenic contamination of soil and water, which can then enter the food supply. The toxicity of arsenic is the same regardless of its source.
"The FDA's data reinforce the need for a standard to be set for arsenic in rice," Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports, said. "In the meantime, to limit their exposure, consumers can moderate their consumption. We agree with the FDA that consumers should also diversify the grains that they eat, especially children, infants and pregnant women." Rangan echoed these sentiments in a statement publicly responding to the FDA's test results.
The FDA also found higher levels of arsenic than Consumer Reports did in some rice beverages used as a milk replacement. Consumer Reports believes that this underscores our previous advice that children under the age of 5 should not have rice milk as part of a daily diet. The American Academy of Pediatrics also does not recommend that infants consume rice drinks and the FDA states that rice milk is not a good substitute for cow's milk.
Based on its test findings, the FDA recommends that consumers should diversify the grains in their diets. Consumer Reports concurs with that advice, and Consumers Union, its public policy and advocacy arm, urges the FDA to complete its risk assessment and set a standard for arsenic in rice.
The table below highlights Consumer Reports' suggestions on ways to limit dietary exposure to arsenic, which in its inorganic form is a known carcinogen. The consumption advice in the table applies to all rice and rice products, regardless of whether they are white- or brown-rice based.
Note: Consumer Reports recommends that children not consume rice milk on a regular basis.
To create the above chart, Consumer Reports used its own findings and the latest available science to offer consumers advice on how to reduce risk from exposure to inorganic arsenic, which is known to have adverse, chronic health effects. For infants, children, and pregnant women, risks maybe heightened. Arsenic risk is based on cumulative exposure over a lifetime. The recommendations are based on a person eating just one type of product per day or per week over a lifetime. If people exceed these limits one week, they can cut back the next.