FDA Says Arsenic Levels in Rice Are Safe–For Now

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On Friday, scientists from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the results of its initial investigation into the presence of arsenic in rice, and concluded that levels of the chemical are very low and do not pose short-term health risks.

The agency collected and tested more than 1,300 samples of rice and rice products for both total arsenic and inorganic arsenic, which is considered more toxic to the brain and other body tissues, contributing to cancers, heart disease and changes in cognitive functions. Because arsenic is absorbed by plants from the soil and water, it tends to accumulate in the hulls of rice, making less processed rice more potentially risky to eat. Brown rice contained about 160 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic per serving, infant rice cereal had 120 parts per billion and rice wine had 11 parts per billion. Based on these numbers, researchers at the FDA determined that the levels of inorganic arsenic found in the samples were too low to cause immediate health issues for consumers.

Earlier this year, the agency also proposed limiting arsenic levels in apple juice to ten parts per billion.

While the analysis did not find an immediate risk from the arsenic found in rice, FDA scientists will continue to study the issue to determine whether the low-level exposure translates to any long-term risks for consumers. “We don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re working on it. In collaboration with farmers, industry, academia and other public health agencies, we are doing everything possible to determine if the levels of arsenic in rice pose a long-term health risk and, if so, what can be done to reduce that risk. The presence of arsenic in rice is a global health issue. The answers we seek will ultimately help protect consumers all over the world,” FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg wrote in the agency’s blog. Last week, Hamburg and Deputy FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine Michael Taylor visited farms in California to better understand how arsenic is entering America’s rice crops, and the best ways to limit that exposure.

Based on the results, the FDA recommends that Americans eat a variety of grains, including rice, to mitigate their exposure to potentially harmful chemicals associated with specific crops.