The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted an analysis of the amount of inorganic arsenic present in a variety of rice and rice products. The results of this study were presented in a September 2013 report. The types of products tested included varieties of rice (brown, white, instant, jasmine, basmati, etc.), rice snacks and cakes, cereal, rice wine, granola bars, bakery mixes (brownies, cakes, crusts, etc.), beer, and pudding. Levels of inorganic arsenic present in each serving varied from 0.5 mcg in rice wine to 7.2 mcg in brown rice.
USA Today reports that these tests involved over 1,300 samples of rice and rice products and, despite the variance in levels present, there is no cause for concern. The amounts of arsenic found are too low to cause immediate or short-term adverse health effects. These tests came after a Consumer Reports article calling for the FDA to better regulate the presence of arsenic.
In contrast to the findings of the FDA, Consumer Reports found rice products going beyond the recommended levels of arsenic. They tested more than 200 samples of products that contain rice, including cereal, flour, vinegar, crackers, pasta, and plain rice. Of particular concern was that a number of infant cereals had dangerous levels. This could create long-term health issues because arsenic consumption has been linked to developmental delays in infants. These finding prompted Consumer Reports to push for FDA regulation, though the FDA tests do not confirm a need for concern.
According to the World Health Organization, arsenic is naturally present in a number of sources, including the air, water, and land. Inorganic arsenic can be highly toxic. Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic through consumption of contaminated food and water can result in cancer, skin lesions, developmental issues, neurotoxicity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Acute symptoms include those similar to food poisoning, as well as numbness, tingling, muscle cramping, and possibly death. Inorganic arsenic often comes from contaminated groundwater, industrial processes, and tobacco use.
The presence of arsenic in foods and the need for FDA regulation are not new issues. The Virginian-Pilot highlighted the high-profile scandal when arsenic was found in baby food. As a result, there were concerns about both the legality of its presence and the need to label foods to make consumers aware. Recently, the FDA also proposed setting a limit on inorganic arsenic in apple juice, reports Reuters. This limit uses the same standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for U.S. drinking water.