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By: Katie Burns Date: 2/22/12

It seems like just yesterday my colleague was blogging about an arsenic “scare” (Arsenic in Apple Juice: Do You Really Need to Worry?), and now the media is buzzing about another arsenic issue—arsenic and brown rice, specifically organic brown rice syrup. 

Arsenic is a compound that exists naturally in the environment. It can also be found in trace amounts from the breakdown of pesticides.  It is not surprising that arsenic is being found in foods and beverages because it’s present in the air, soil and water from which our foods and beverages are grown and harvested. The good news, though, is these levels of arsenic in our food supply are so low that they would not cause any negative health effects.  They are so low that they are measured in parts per billion—one part per billion is like one square of toilet paper from a roll big enough to  stretch from New York City to London!  It is by new and improved scientific methods that we are able to find smaller and smaller levels of elements, such as arsenic, in food; however, just because we can find these small levels does not mean a healthful and otherwise safe food is suddenly dangerous.

Importantly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not recommending that people change their diet due to this recent report.

Background on the Dartmouth Study

A recently released study from Dartmouth College found  that organic brown rice contains arsenic and that this organic brown rice is used to make a sweetener, organic brown rice syrup (OBRS), which is used to sweeten some organic food products.  OBRS, according to the researchers, is used in some organic high-energy foods, such as cereal and energy bars used by endurance athletes, as well as in some organic infant formulas.  The organic infant formula and high energy foods that were tested by the researchers had arsenic levels higher than  the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safe level for drinking water, and the researchers from Dartmouth cautioned that products that use OBRS as a sweetener may be introducing arsenic into an individual’s diet without that person being aware. 

The appropriate standard for arsenic in foods and beverages is set by FDA.  Comparing arsenic levels in these products to the EPA standard for drinking water is inappropriate.  The two standards are determined differently, due to the fact that we drink more water than consume any other specific food or beverage.  That is why the acceptable level for arsenic in drinking water is much lower. 

What does this mean for you and me?

The FDA does not recommend anyone change his or her  diet on account of this recent report about arsenic in organic brown rice syrup; however, for those people who may want to stop consuming products that use OBRS, they can check the ingredients list on the food package.   

The FDA has been monitoring arsenic content in foods and beverages for more than 20 years and is committed to protecting public health.  FDA has announced a  process of further inspection of rice and rice products, to determine the levels and types of arsenic that may be present in an effort to protect the public.   The results of the inspection are expected in the spring. 

Additional Resources on Arsenic:

 

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