FAQs About Arsenic in Food

Should I be concerned about arsenic in food?

Have there been any documented cases of arsenic in rice causing adverse health conditions?

What is the U.S. government doing in response to arsenic in rice?

Is arsenic in the food system a serious public health issue?

Is the arsenic content of U.S.-grown rice similar to rice imported from overseas?

Does all organic brown rice syrup contain high levels of arsenic?

Why can't arsenic levels in food and rice be compared to the drinking water standard?

 

Should I be concerned about arsenic in food?

Arsenic is unavoidable because it is a naturally occurring element in air, soil, water and foods. People are likely to be exposed to low levels of arsenic even if rice is eliminated from their diets.

Recent media stories based on studies about high levels of arsenic in rice can mislead the public about this issue. It is important for consumers to know that arsenic is present everywhere and therefore trace amounts are present in foods like fruits and vegetables, regardless of whether they are organic or produced conventionally.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, exposure to higher than average levels of arsenic occurs mostly in the workplace, near hazardous waste sites, or in areas with high natural levels. 1

Scientists broadly, and EPA in particular, do not accept the argument that "there is no safe level of arsenic." EPA expressly considers arsenic levels in drinking water below 10 parts per billion to be "generally safe."

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Have there been any documented cases of arsenic in rice causing adverse health conditions?

None that we have seen. We understand that there have been no documented incidents in which arsenic in U.S. rice has led to human health problems. In addition, populations with high rice consumption are associated with good health. A recent study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the estimated level of consumer exposure to arsenic through diet is 80% lower than the level imposed by law to protect consumers from long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic in drinking and cooking water. 2

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What is the U.S. government doing in response to arsenic in rice?

The FDA, the agency responsible for overseeing the safety of our food supply, has been monitoring arsenic content for more than 20 years. FDA toxicologists have not indicated that the average daily intake of arsenic is unsafe for consumers, and they have not established federal standards regarding the acceptable limits of arsenic in food.

Given recent attention to the issue, the FDA has expanded its surveillance activities of rice to ensure that consumers are protected. The rice industry is fully engaged with federal regulators, food scientists, nutritionists and manufacturers to ensure the continued safety and healthfulness of this vital food source.

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Is arsenic in the food system a serious public health issue?

According to Dr. James Coughlin, a food toxicology consultant and Food Science Communicator for the Institute of Food Technologists, "People are exposed to trace amounts of arsenic every day. It is found naturally in the earth's crust, in our water, in the air we breathe and in many of the foods we consume. The level of arsenic typically found in food is largely considered to be benign, since background levels in food have not caused reported health effects, including cancer. Further, there is overwhelming food safety, nutritional, scientific and medical evidence that supports that diets rich in fruits, vegetables and grains are tremendously beneficial to the health of consumers."

In regards to children's health, Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann, a pediatrician and best-selling author, advises, "Rice plays an important role in a healthy, nutritious diet. It provides crucial nutrients, vitamins and minerals that help protect against disease and ensure healthy growth during pregnancy and childhood. As a mother, I feel safe feeding my sons food that includes rice or organic brown rice syrup. And as a doctor, I would recommend other parents feel comfortable feeding their children the same."

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Is the arsenic content of U.S.-grown rice similar to rice imported from overseas?

The overall arsenic content of U.S. rice is similar to that found in other regions of the world, according to ongoing evaluations within the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the presumptive international authority on food issues that was established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 3  However, federal regulators tested samples of U.S. rice provided by the rice industry from all major rice-growing states and found an average of 92 ppb inorganic arsenic with a range of 40 ppb to 145 ppb. The 92 ppb average level for U.S. rice is significantly less than the 140 ppb average level of inorganic arsenic reported for rice worldwide. Federal scientists have assessed consumer exposure to arsenic and estimated rice to contribute only 11 percent of inorganic arsenic in the average diet, including water.

The level of naturally occurring arsenic in soil varies across the U.S. and there is some variation within rice regions. No arsenical pesticides are used when growing rice.

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Does all organic brown rice syrup contain high levels of arsenic?

Since there is no food standard for arsenic, there is no way to determine what "high" means. "High" is a relative term and may erroneously imply unnatural or hazardous levels. Overall, studies have not shown that normal dietary exposure to arsenic causes health effects. Like most foods that naturally contain some levels of arsenic, all organic rice syrup contains some level of arsenic.

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Why can't arsenic levels in food and rice be compared to the drinking water standard?

There is a standard for arsenic levels in water, but there is no such standard for arsenic levels in food. For water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the maximum arsenic level for drinking water at 10 parts per billion (ppb), considered the maximum allowable level to protect consumers from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic. The estimated level of consumer exposure to arsenic through diet is 80% lower than the level imposed in the drinking water standard.

Comparing the drinking water standard to food, however, is invalid since: 1) Nearly 100% of the arsenic in water is the inorganic form and is by virtue of being dissolved in water, readily accessible by the body.  2) The amount of exposure to arsenic from water is far greater than from a food source such as rice due to far higher consumption levels for water.

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1 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine ToxFAQs" (2007), http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/TF.asp?id=19&tid=3.
2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "EPA Computer Models Predict Exposures to Arsenic that Echo Reality" (2010), http://www.epa.gov/ordntrnt/ORD/priorities/docs/Arsenic_in_Food_FS.pdf.
3 Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization Food Standards Programme Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food, "Discussion Paper on Arsenic in Rice" (2011), ftp://ftp.fao.org/codex/meetings/cccf/cccf5/cf05_10e.pdf.

Questions?

Call: 1-800-888-7423 or
E-mail:  riceinfo@usarice.com

"People are exposed to trace amounts of arsenic every day.

It is found naturally in the earth's crust, in our water, in the air we breathe and in many of the foods we consume. The level of arsenic typically found in food is largely considered to Dr. James Coughlin be benign, since background levels in food have not caused reported health effects, including cancer. Further, there is overwhelming food safety, nutritional, scientific and medical evidence that supports that diets rich in fruits, vegetables and grains are tremendously beneficial to the health of consumers."

 
Dr. James Coughlin
President, Coughlin & Associates
Consultants in Food/Nutritional/Chemical Toxicology and Safety
"Rice plays an important role in a healthy, nutritious diet.

It provides crucial nutrients, vitamins and minerals that help protect against disease and ensure healthy growth during pregnancy and childhood. As a mother, I feel safe feeding my Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann sons food that includes rice or organic brown rice syrup. And as a doctor, I would recommend other parents feel comfortable feeeding their children the same."

Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann
Pediatrician and Best-Selling Author
"Arsenic has always been present in many of the foods we eat, including fruits, vegetables and rice.

There are no documented cases of rice causing adverse health effects. In fact the opposite is true, many populations that consume up to Dr. Keith Ayoob five times more rice than Americans have lower disease rates and healthy diets overall. The health benefits of rice should not be overlooked. It plays an important role in maintaining a healthy, nutritious and wholesome diet."

Dr. Keith Ayoob
Associate Clinical Professor, Dept. of Pediatrics
Albert Einstein School of Medicine
Brought to you by the USA Rice Federation.