FDA studies arsenic found in rice products

A man holds a handful of rice grains at a market.

Consumer Reports is recommending that Americans limit their rice consumption, after finding arsenic in over 60 rice products they tested.  The group is urging the government to set limits on arsenic in rice,  just like it does for water.

But before you start tossing out your Rice Krispies and Rice-A-Roni, here’s what we know. The Food and Drug Administration has been monitoring arsenic levels in rice for years. Both the FDA and Consumer Reports have found arsenic in common rice products. The FDA  says the levels “merit a deeper look." Consumer Reports calls them “troubling.”

“What we know is that it’s a known carcinogen and that the amounts we’re seeing are certainly within the range of the limits we set for water, which even those limits carry quite a high level of risk,” says Urvashi Rangan,  the director of Consumer Reports’ Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group.

But FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg says there’s no evidence, yet, that rice is unsafe to eat. She says her agency won’t make any conclusions until next year, after the agency completes its own, wider study.  She says the best advice for rice eaters right now is a diet of “balance and moderation.”

Hamburg suggests there are many other grains that consumers can substitute for rice and if parents are especially worried about products like baby rice cereal, for which doctors often recommend, they can substitute oatmeal.

She cautioned there has been a lot of variability in the testing so far. And she says studies of subgroups in the United States that traditionally eat a rice-heavy diet (Asians, Pacific Islanders) don’t show higher levels of cancer associated with arsenic toxicity.

Consumer Reports found higher levels of arsenic in rice grown in the south central part of the United States than in California.  They speculate that it may be related to arsenic-laced pesticides lingering in the soil from cotton cultivation and poultry manure.

Some food companies are already responding to concerns about arsenic in food. Gerber issued a statement saying that earlier this year “we decided to exclusively use California rice in the production of our rice-containing infant nutrition products … because California rice has the lowest naturally occurring arsenic levels for rice grown in the United States.”

The U.S. rice industry said it was cooperating with the FDA in its studies but saw no reason for consumers to stop eating rice products.  The USA Rice Federation put out a statement calling  rice “an important, nutritional and safe part of a healthy diet.” 

 

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

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