Arsenic and Food Safety


Consumer Reports (CR) asks for FDA limits in arsenic. Especially rice, apple products and beer have been in focus. Inorganic arsenic, the predominant form of arsenic in food, is a Group 1 carcinogen. While there is no FDA standard for arsenic levels in our food, there are regulations on arsenic in water, max 10ppb per liter (NJ standard 5ppb). High levels of arsenic in public water are known to be linked to genetic damage, bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans, among other suspected diseases, as seen in Chile and Argentina.
Rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more effectively than most plants. Arsenic is in the soil from pesticides, that were heavily sprayed on cotton crops. Rice from the original cotton producing Southern US states, (AR, MS, MO, TX) shows the highest levels of arsenic, while rice from California and Asia seem to have lower contamination, although, residue from other crops may be in the soil especially in the US. Arsenic containing pesticides and manure from cattle treated with arsenic drugs are still used on US crops, CR is asking regulators to prohibit this practice.

Surprisingly, tests show almost no difference in contamination of organic crops and conventional crops. I had thought that soil for organic crops had to be remedied for a period to ensure low, or no contamination.
After my recent gorging on home made horchata, I was wondering if the concentration of rice and the organic brand I had bought would be hurting me. Interpreting the list of Consumer Reports tested rice in 2012, I came up with following rules of thumb:

U.S. American Rice has tested highest in arsenic, especially from AR, MS, MO, TX.

Lowest US Levels are from California CA (Recommended: Lundberg has a self testing procedure)

Brown Rice shows higher arsenic levels than white rice (possible accumulation in shell) buy brown rice organic from California CA. (My Della organic brown rice from Costco btw. showed one of the highest levels as the rice originated from Arkansas AR.)

Parboiled rice higher contaminated than regular rice, might be origin related

Black rice, red rice etc. As there is only information on the mainstream rice products, I estimate that US origins are higher in contamination.

Processed rice products, Rice milk, rice pasta, rice syrup, and rice flour tested with higher levels as the processing concentrates the product. This is especially unfortunate for people with gluten allergy, who use alternative grains in larger amounts, vegans who use alternative milks and of course children with much smaller toxic tolerance. Again, checking origin of the product may help and use for children should be avoided.

Ethnic diets Asians diets, outside the US may be relatively safe, as for example Indian rice tested lower in arsenic than US American rice, reason might be that US crops are heavier sprayed and Indian cotton crops may not have switched locations as in the US. However all US Asian populations and also Latin and Southern minority diets that may eat a traditional diet higher in (Southern) US grown rice, may be at risk©

Consumer Report: Safety alert: FDA data show arsenic in rice, juice and beer pg. 14 March/2014

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