Arsenic & Food Study

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Ecocentric Blog

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Chris Hunt looked into Consumer Report's recently released study "Arsenic in Your Food" for EcocentricBlog.org.

In his article "What Not to Eat: Arsenic!", Hunt parses out the key points of the study, creating a handy guideline for those wanting to avoid consuming critical amounts of arsenic… meaning everyone:

Never one to pass up an opportunity to spread a little doom and gloom, I felt compelled to emerge from blog-writing hibernation to bring you the latest bummer food news. Today, Consumer Reports released “Arsenic in Your Food,” a report describing its recent investigation of arsenic levels in rice.  The results are unsettling. According to the report, analysis of 65 rice and rice products (including infant cereals, hot cereals, ready-to-eat cereals, rice cakes, rice crackers, rice pasta, rice flour and rice drinks) revealed that samples of almost every product contained measurable levels of total arsenic, including organic and inorganic forms.

Sound like cause for concern? It is. Inorganic arsenic is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and is known to cause bladder, lung and skin cancer (and may cause liver, kidney and prostate cancer as well).  Organic arsenic is less toxic, but still not exactly something you want to sprinkle on your sandwich; the forms DMA and MMA are classified as possible carcinogens.

Although arsenic levels varied significantly in the products tested by Consumer Reports, nearly all contained inorganic arsenic – sometimes in concentrations sufficient to raise red flags. (Find the complete test results on the CR website.)  According to Consumer Reports, the investigation also revealed the following trends:

– White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas generally had higher levels of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic than rice samples from elsewhere (India, Thailand and California combined).

– Within tested brands offering brown and white rice versions, brown rice had higher average total and inorganic arsenic than their white rice counterparts.

– Some brown rice samples were lower in arsenic compared to some white rice samples which may be explained by agricultural practices or geographic location.

– Infant rice cereals and drink products also contained worrisome levels of arsenic. Consumer Reports advises that children under the age of 5 not be given rice drinks as part of their daily diet, similar to advice given in the United Kingdom regarding rice milk.

– People who ate rice had arsenic levels that were at least 44 percent greater than those who had not according to Consumer Reports’ analysis of federal health data. Certain ethnic groups were more highly affected, including Mexicans, other Hispanics, and a broad category that included Asians.

– Some food companies are concerned.  And methods have been introduced to try to reduce levels of arsenic in products.

Click here to read the rest of the article at EcocentricBlog.org!

This article originally appeared at EcocentricBlog.org. It is partially posted here with permission from the author.

Chris Hunt serves as senior policy advisor for GRACE's Sustainable Table. He devotes his attention to issues related to food production and consumption, focusing on the problems created by industrial livestock operations. (from Ecocentric Blog)

Photo Credit: Tomiko Peirano