Rice found to contain ‘worrisome’ amounts of arsenic

In this Aug. 16, 2012 photo, a combine harvests rice near Tucker, Ark. Consumer groups are pressuring the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set federal guidance on allowable levels of arsenic in rice, prompting the agency to consider possible new standards. So far, FDA officials say they have found no evidence that suggests rice is unsafe to eat.
Danny Johnston | ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this Aug. 16, 2012 photo, a combine harvests rice near Tucker, Ark. Consumer groups are pressuring the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set federal guidance on allowable levels of arsenic in rice, prompting the agency to consider possible new standards. So far, FDA officials say they have found no evidence that suggests rice is unsafe to eat.
Posted Sept. 20, 2012, at 2:58 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — Arsenic is common in rice and popular rice-based products such as cereals, pastas, drinks and crackers, according to an investigation by Consumer Reports.

The watchdog group said Wednesday that it found “significant” and “worrisome” amounts of inorganic arsenic in nearly every rice product tested. Consumer Reports urged the public to consume fewer rice products and asked the Food and Drug Administration to set limits on permissible levels ofarsenic in food.

Inorganic arsenic is a carcinogen, affecting the bladder, lungs and skin, and can cause long-term health problems when ingested by children. Organicarsenic is less toxic but still “of concern,” according to Consumer Reports.

Both types of arsenic are found often in vegetables, fruits and even water. This year, the product-testing organization found that the chemical element was common in apple and grape juices.

Consumer Reports said it tested more than 200 samples of rice products, including some from major labels, organic and conventional purveyors, and gluten-free companies. Rice, which is grown partly submerged, easily absorbs arsenic found naturally in soil and water.

Some infant rice cereals had five times the inorganic arsenic found in alternatives such as oatmeal, according to the group. White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas — the source of more than three-quarters of domestic rice — had higher levels of arsenic than other samples.

But the average arsenic levels in brown rice were always higher than for the white variety. The element concentrates in the outer layers of the grain, which are polished off to produce white rice.

Latinos and those of Asian descent tend to be more affected by arsenic; consumers who ate rice often had arsenic levels 44 percent higher than those who didn’t eat the food, according to the report.

Eating just over half a cup of cooked rice a day increased urinary arsenic levels, a similar effect to drinking a liter of water containing the federal maximum of 10 parts per billion of arsenic, according to a study quoted by Consumer Reports from the Dartmouth Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center.

The $34 billion rice industry says the concerns are overblown.

“There is no documented evidence of actual adverse health effects from exposure to arsenic in U.S.-grown rice,” Anne Banville, a vice president at the USA Rice Federation trade association, said in a statement. “And we believe the health benefits of rice must be properly weighed against the risks ofarsenic exposure, which we believe are minimal.”

But the trade group said it is nonetheless aiding research into arsenic levels in rice.

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