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FDA nearing decision on federal standards for arsenic in rice

By Joe Whitworth , 20-Sep-2012

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering new standards for the levels of arsenic in rice but said yesterday that it does not have enough evidence yet.

The FDA has released preliminary data on arsenic levels in rice and rice products ahead of a more detailed report by the end of the year.

The analysis of 200 initial samples found average levels of inorganic arsenic for the various rice and rice products of 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving.

There are many different types of rice and rice products that are grown in different areas and under different conditions and further analysis is needed to assess how these variations may affect the results, said the FDA.

Data collection continuing

The trade body is in the process of collecting and analyzing 1,200 samples to examine the issue and once the collection is completed, the FDA will determine whether or not to issue additional recommendations.

Initial samples included various brands of rice (non-Basmati), Basmati rice, brown rice, rice cereals (puffed, non-puffed, hot cereal, and infant cereals), rice cakes, and rice milk.

“We understand that consumers are concerned about this matter. That’s why the FDA has prioritized analyzing arsenic levels in rice,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

 “Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains – not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food.”

Earlier this year two US congress representatives called on the FDA to set allowable limits for arsenic

Federal standards needed

The FDA statement comes on the back of a report from consumer watchdog, Consumer Reports, which said federal standards were needed for arsenic in food.

Ana Navas-Acien, a physician-epidemiologist with expertise in arsenic research at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, was one of the people leading the data analysis.

She said the results underscore the need for monitoring arsenic in food and establishing safety standards.

The USA Rice Federation, which represents rice growers and industry, said it was ‘disappointed’ as the report ‘failed to meaningfully add to the public discourse about this important issue’.

“We understand that ‘arsenic’ is an alarming word, but we believe it is important for consumers to know that arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our air, water, rocks and soil.

“We are disappointed in today’s Consumer Reports article for failing to add meaningfully to the public discourse about this important issue.

“Instead, the article is incomplete and inaccurate on many levels: it employs an ‘arsenic content standard’ that simply doesn’t exist in federal law.

“It cites federal health data to allege health risk from arsenic ingestion when that data is based on arsenic excreted from, rather than absorbed by, the body.”