FAQs about Arsenic in Food

Arsenic is everywhere in nature. It is one of many natural elements found in air, water, and soil, and virtually all crop plants take up arsenic. There are trace amounts of arsenic in nearly all of the foods and beverages we consume, including vegetables, fruits, juices, rice, grains, seafood, meat, and wine. Some believe pesticides are to blame, however, U.S. rice farmers do not use any arsenical pesticides on the rice they grow.
There are two types of arsenic found in food: organic, which presents almost no human health threat; and inorganic, which can pose health threats if consumed at high levels. The level of inorganic arsenic typically found in food, and particularly in rice, is so low it is measured in something called "parts per billion." There have been no documented incidents in which arsenic in U.S. rice has led to human health problems, and U.S.-grown rice already meets established international health standards for arsenic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, exposure to higher than average levels of arsenic occurs not from food you eat, but results mostly when arsenic is present in the workplace, near hazardous waste sites, or in areas with high natural levels. 1

1 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine ToxFAQs" (2007), http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/TF.asp?id=19&tid=3.

No. Both inorganic and organic forms of arsenic occur naturally. The terms "organic" and "inorganic," with regard to arsenic, are chemistry terms and should not be confused with food marketed as "organic."
The abbreviation 'ppb' stands for parts per billion and is a way to measure concentration at extremely small levels. One ppb is equal to one ten-millionth of one percent, or .0000001%. This is equivalent to one half teaspoon of water in an Olympic sized swimming pool (more than 660,000 gallons).
The FDA, the government agency responsible for overseeing the safety of our food supply, has been testing for arsenic in a variety of foods since 1964, and rice specifically since 1991, as part of their routine monitoring procedures. Arsenic is only one of many substances that FDA monitors in foods and this testing is not in response to any specific food safety incident.
When it comes to your health or the health of your family, you must make your own decisions and be comfortable with them. However, you can be confident in the assurance that infant rice cereal produced with U.S.-grown white rice is sourcing rice with the lowest arsenic content in the world, and that all major infant rice cereal brands that use U.S.-grown white rice already meet the threshold established by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
Studies suggest that people who consume large amounts of rice are actually associated with having healthier overall diets that are more in line with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Comprehensive studies by Harvard University (funded by The National Institutes of Health) involving more than 200,000 people found no increased risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer due to rice consumption, including individuals with Asian backgrounds for whom rice is a daily staple. Rice is actually not the greatest source of arsenic in the typical diet. Fruit, fruit juice, and vegetables are greater sources of arsenic and few nutritionists and dieticians would advise you to eliminate these important sources of vitamins and minerals from your diet.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concluded U.S.-grown rice has the lowest inorganic arsenic of all countries tested. 2

2 Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization Food Standards Programme Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food, "Discussion Paper on Arsenic in Rice" (2011), ftp://ftp.fao.org/codex/meetings/cccf/cccf5/cf05_10e.pdf.

No. Regardless of whether the farming method is conventional or organic, rice, like just about every other crop plant, takes up trace amounts of arsenic.
“By attacking rice, we may be inadvertently missing health benefits.

Julie-Miller-Jones-PhDFor instance, U.S. data on cancer risk in Asian-Americans showed a lower cancer risk compared with other ethnic groups and Asian-Americans eat much more rice than the rest of the population. Worrying about these small levels of arsenic rather than worrying about getting a good diet is a wrong-headed strategy, because the real worry is that we’re not adequately nourished. All foods contain arsenic. So, if you eliminate arsenic from your diet, you will decrease your risk of any kind of adverse effect from arsenic, and you’ll die of starvation.” — from foodinsight.org
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Julie Jones, PhD, LN, CNS
Professor Emerita
Foods and Nutrition
St. Catherine University

“Arsenic has always been present in many of the foods we eat, including fruits, vegetables and rice.

ayoob-125There are no documented cases of rice causing adverse health effects. In fact the opposite is true, many populations that consume up to five times more rice than Americans have lower disease rates and healthy diets overall. The health benefits of rice should not be overlooked. It plays an important role in maintaining a healthy, nutritious and wholesome diet.”

Dr. Keith Ayoob
Associate Clinical Professor
Department of Pediatrics
Albert Einstein School of Medicine

“Rice plays an important role in a healthy, nutritious diet.

altmann-125It provides crucial nutrients, vitamins and minerals that help protect against disease and ensure healthy growth during pregnancy and childhood. As a mother, I feel safe feeding mysons food that includes rice or organic brown rice syrup. And as a doctor, I would recommend other parents feel comfortable feeding their children the same.”

Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann
Pediatrician and Best-Selling Author

“People are exposed to trace amounts of arsenic every day.

coughlin-125It is found naturally in the earth’s crust, in our water, in the air we breathe and in many of the foods we consume. The level of arsenic typically found in food is largely considered tobe benign, since background levels in food have not caused reported health effects, including cancer. Further, there is overwhelming food safety, nutritional, scientific and medical evidence that supports that diets rich in fruits, vegetables and grains are tremendously beneficial to the health of consumers.”

Dr. James Coughlin
President, Coughlin & Associates
Consultants in Food/Nutritional/Chemical Toxicology and Safety


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