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US rice arsenic level regulations ‘imperative’ - report

By Mark Astley, 06-Dec-2011

Related topics: Regulation and safety

Researchers have called on US food safety authorities to regulate arsenic levels in rice, following a report on the risk associated with the contaminant.

The study, which concentrated on the potentially harmful exposure for pregnant women to arsenic, concluded that setting safe legal levels of the contaminant in foodstuffs was essential to protect public health.

Heavy metal arsenic, which is found naturally in the environment, has been linked to several adverse health effects including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

There is also increasing concern over the effects of low-dosage exposure to the heavy metal.

There are currently no safe legal limits on the amount of arsenic in rice products in the US or in Europe.

It is imperative that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) produce further guidance on safe levels of the heavy metal in rice, added the report.

Further guidance

“There are no statutory limits for the arsenic content of food sold in the United States and European Union, in stark contrast to China, where the maximum safe level of inorganic arsenic in rice is 0.15μg/g (parts per billion [ppb]),” said the study.

Although no safe legal levels have been set in Europe or the US, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has “stressed the need for more data on levels of organic and inorganic arsenic in different foodstuffs, as well as on the relationship between arsenic intake levels and possible health effects,” said the organisation’s website.

The FDA recently recognised the potential health risks associated with arsenic contamination in apple, but no guidance has been set on rice to-date.

“Setting such limits would protect consumers from unknowingly purchasing rice or rice products with high levels of arsenic,” added the report.

“Given the potentially adverse health consequences of arsenic at low levels of exposure, it is imperative that the health impact of arsenic exposure through rice consumption be characterised.”

“Our findings along with others indicate that rice consumption should be considered when designing arsenic reduction strategies in the United States.”

Seriously considering guidance

This report comes after reported how the FDA was poised to develop new guidelines on the safe legal levels of arsenic in apple juice.

The FDA potential regulation update came as a result of food safety concerns from a consumer group which conducted its own testing for arsenic in apple juice.

Current guidelines dictate that apple juice containing more than 23ppb of organic arsenic represent a potential health risk.

The FDA announced in a reply to the consumer group that it is “seriously considering setting guidance or other level for inorganic arsenic in apple juice and are collecting all relevant information to evaluate and determine an appropriate level.”