Release date 11/30/2011
YONKERS, NY – Amid growing concerns over arsenic, Consumer Reports conducted a broad investigation of arsenic and lead in juices. While federal standards exist for arsenic and lead levels allowed in bottled and drinking water, there are no limits defined for fruit juices, a mainstay of many children’s diets, putting them at unnecessary risk for serious health problems, including several forms of cancer.
Consumer Reports tested 88 samples of locally-purchased apple juice and grape juice and found that 10 percent of the samples had total arsenic levels that exceeded federal drinking-water standards of 10 parts per billion (ppb) and 25 percent of the samples had lead levels higher than the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) bottled-water limit of 5 ppb. Most of the arsenic detected in Consumer Reports’ tests was a type known as inorganic, a human carcinogen.
The FDA announced in a November 21st letter to consumer advocacy groups Food & Water Watch and Empire State Consumer Project that it is seriously considering setting guidance for permissible levels of inorganic arsenic in apple juice and that it is gathering data to determine what an appropriate level would be. The agency also discussed its previously undisclosed test results of eight apple juice samples analyzed around 2008 through 2011 that showed levels of total arsenic of up to 45 ppb. These samples had not been reported when the FDA stated in September 2011 amid public controversy that apple juice consumption poses little or no risk. Of the 160 samples reported on by the FDA Toxic Elements Food and Foodware Program, which include the eight samples previously undisclosed, 5 percent had total arsenic levels that exceeded 23 ppb. This is the threshold that the FDA has previously used for further investigation.
Consumer Reports also analyzed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data on total urinary arsenic of participants who reported their food and drink consumption for 24 hours the day before being tested. To ensure the most accurate analysis, Consumer Reports excluded people who regularly ate seafood, since seafood is a major source of a form of arsenic that is generally considered to be nontoxic. The analysis showed that people who reported drinking apple or grape juice had, on average, about 20 percent higher levels of total urinary arsenic than those subjects who did not.
As a result of this testing and analysis, Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, believes that the federal government should establish a standard of 3 ppb for total arsenic and 5 ppb for lead in juice. In fact, 41 percent of the samples Consumer Reports tested met both thresholds.
The complete report is featured in the January 2012 issue of Consumer Reports magazine and online at www.consumerreports.org.
“Our test findings of arsenic and lead in apple juice are in line with existing data from the Food and Drug Administration,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Director of Safety & Sustainability at Consumer Reports. “In fact, the agency has found higher levels of arsenic and lead in apple juice. We’re concerned about the potential risks of exposure to these toxins especially for children who are particularly vulnerable because of their small body size and the amount of juice they regularly consume.”
What Parents Can Do Now
Parents should limit their child’s juice consumption. A Consumer Reports poll conducted as part of this investigation shows that children drink a lot of juice – 35 percent of children age five and younger drink juices exceeding pediatricians’ recommendations. The American Academy of Pediatrics has set up juice-consumption guidelines for children to help cut the risks of obesity and tooth decay; Consumer Reports believes the guidelines below should also be followed for reducing arsenic exposure:
Avoid giving infants under six months any type of juice.
Children up to six years old should consume no more than four to six ounces per day. Consumer Reports’ poll also found that 26 percent of toddlers two and younger and 45 percent of children ages three to five drink seven or more ounces of juice a day.
Older children should drink no more than eight to 12 ounces a day.
Diluting juice with distilled or purified water can help parents achieve these goals. Additionally, Consumer Reports recommends that consumers check the water in their homes for arsenic and lead and consider using a water filter that removes these metals if elevated levels are found.
What the Government Should Do
Because the more harmful type of arsenic – inorganic – has been detected in other foods at high levels, more must be done to reduce overall dietary exposure.
Federal officials should set a total arsenic standard of 3 ppb in juice and at least a 5 ppb limit for lead. Such standards appear to be achievable, and would better protect children who are most vulnerable to the effects of arsenic and lead.
Eliminate use of arsenicals in animal feed.
Ban all uses of organic arsenical pesticides.
Prohibit use of arsenic-laden fertilizers in agriculture.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should lower the 10 ppb drinking-water limit for arsenic.
Consumers Union’s proposed juice standard of 3 ppb total arsenic would better ensure that a child who follows the American Academy of Pediatrics juice limit recommendations would not exceed his or her daily exposure limit for arsenic based on lung and bladder cancer risks.
“Our proposed limit of 3 ppb total arsenic accepts a lenient risk tolerance of one excess cancer for every 1,000 people. Safety limits based on a risk tolerance of one in a million people to no more than one in 10,000 are considered to be ideally protective of cancer risk. Three ppb total arsenic is a reasonable and practical limit that appears to be achievable at this time based on our findings,” said Dr. Rangan.
Consumer Reports Tests and Findings
Consumer Reports purchased 28 apple juices and three grape juices from various locations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. A total of 88 samples tested were from ready-to-drink bottles, juice boxes, and cans of concentrate. To assess variability, samples were bought from three different lot numbers of most juices; for others, Consumer Reports bought samples from one or two lots because it was unable to find three. Findings showed that most of the total arsenic in the samples was inorganic, which is thought to be more harmful than organic arsenic.
Five samples of apple juice and four samples of grape juice had total arsenic levels exceeding the 10 ppb federal limit for bottled and drinking water. In apple juice, arsenic levels ranged from 1.1 to 13.9 ppb; grape-juice levels were even higher, 5.9 to 24.7 ppb.
In Consumer Reports’ tests, the following brands had at least one sample of apple juice that exceeded 10 ppb: Apple & Eve, Great Value (Walmart), and Mott’s. For grape juice, at least one sample from both Walgreens and Welch’s exceeded that threshold.
The apple and grape juice samples were also tested for lead.
About one-fourth of all juice samples had levels at or above the 5 ppb federal limit for bottled water. The top lead level for apple juice was 13.6 ppb and 15.9 ppb for grape juice.
In Consumer Reports’ tests, some brands had one or more samples of apple juice that exceeded 5 ppb for lead: America’s Choice (A&P), Gerber, Gold Emblem (CVS), Great Value, Joe’s Kids (Trader Joe’s), Minute Maid, Seneca, and Walgreens. Grape juice from Gold Emblem, Walgreens, and Welch’s each had at least one sample that contained lead levels in excess of 5 ppb.
A full chart that identifies total arsenic levels, including levels of inorganic and organic species, and lead levels for each tested sample can be found on www.consumerreports.org.
Consumer Reports’ findings provide a spot check of a number of local juice aisles, but cannot be used to draw general conclusions about arsenic or lead levels in any particular juice brand or type. Even within a single tested brand, levels of arsenic and lead sometimes varied widely.
A much bigger test would be needed to establish a link between elevated arsenic or lead levels and the juice concentrate’s country of origin. Samples tested by Consumer Reports included some made from concentrate from multiple countries including Argentina, China, New Zealand, South Africa, and Turkey; others came from a single country including the U.S.
Why Arsenic is a Concern
Consumer Reports focused on arsenic levels primarily in apple juice due to the frequency and quantity that children typically drink. Arsenic is a naturally-occurring element that can contaminate groundwater used for drinking and irrigation in areas where it’s abundant, such as parts of New England, the Midwest, and the Southwest. Although lead-arsenate insecticides were banned in the U.S. in the 1980s, their residue in soil can still contaminate crops. There are still allowed uses of organic arsenical pesticides.
When it binds to elements such as sulfur, oxygen, and chlorine, arsenic is referred to as inorganic, a known carcinogen linked to bladder, lung, and skin cancer and which may also increase risks of cardiovascular disease, immunodeficiencies, and type 2 diabetes. Arsenic also takes an organic form when it binds to molecules containing carbon. Fish can contain an organic form of arsenic called arsenobetaine, generally considered non-toxic to humans. But questions have been raised about the human health effects of other types of organic arsenic in food, including juice.
Arsenic’s cancer potency has been grossly underestimated, previously only based on skin cancer risk and now based on combined lung and bladder cancer risk. The latest EPA draft report regarding inorganic arsenic carcinogenicity proposed that the number used to calculate the cancer risk from ingestion be increased 17-fold.
For more on the arsenic in juice report and other consumer topics, please visit www.consumerreports.org.
Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.