A Consumer Reports magazine investigation has found that numerous rice products contain arsenic, a known carcinogen, at what they describe as “worrisome levels.” The U.S.-based watchdog is recommending that specific arsenic level limits be placed on rice products……
More than 200 products containing rice, including organic rice baby cereal, rice breakfast cereals, brown rice and white rice were tested, and they describe the results as ”even more troubling in some ways than our findings for juice.” A previous Consumer Report investigation found arsenic in apple and grape juices.
Virtually every rice product tested in this current investigation contained measurable amounts of both organic and inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen, and organic arsenic, though less toxic, may still cause health problems.
“We do have federal limits for the amount of arsenic foods,” explains Health Canada spokesperson Gary Holub.
It is true that some foods cannot exceed a certain amount of arsenic under the Food and Drug Regulations, but the list is very limited. Canada’s regulated products are fish protein (3.5 ppb), edible bone meal (1 ppb), and fruit juice and nectar (0.1 ppb). There is no limit on the amount of arsenic allowed in rice.
“These limits are currently under re-evaluation,” says Holub. “I can’t say the specific reason. It could be a matter of due diligence, of cyclical reevaluation of enforcement standards, but we do note new scientific evidence that may indicate a review is necessary.”
Health Canada also deals with arsenic exposure from food on a case-by-case basis. For example, they recently issued a recall of certain brands of pear juice, after they were found to contain elevated levels of arsenic.
According to a Health Canada fact sheet, arsenic is “a natural occurring element found throughout our environments and its living systems.” However, the Canadian regulatory agency also cautions that the chemical is sometimes used in manufacturing and can enter the environment through human activities.
The rice report goes further than Health Canada, cautioning that “natural” does not equal “safe”. The form of arsenic they found in 65 of the rice products analyzed is ranked as a Group One carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans.
In the United States, there are no limits on the allowable amount of arsenic in foods, however in drinking water it is 10 parts per billion (ppb). The report found that some single servings of rice contained twice the inorganic arsenic found in a litre of water. Brown rice was found to have more arsenic than white rice, as the chemical is absorbed by the outer husk which is removed in white rice.
But perhaps two of the most concerning discoveries was that some infant rice cereals had about five times the level of inorganic arsenic as alternatives like oatmeal. And that some ethnic groups had higher levels of arsenic in their blood, likely due to a higher rice diet.
Whether the Consumer Reports investigation will prompt a similar examination here in Canada remains to be seen.