❝ Baby rice, the bland porridge sold in supermarkets for weaning infants, can contain potentially dangerous levels of arsenic, according to new research done in the United Kingdom. The discovery calls for more attention to food-production sources, the authors say, but experts are divided on the value of the study.
❝ High doses of arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer when consumed over long periods of time. In the European Union and United States, there are stringent limits on arsenic levels in water but fewer restrictions for food. Rice has come under scientific scrutiny because it soaks up arsenic from the soil more readily than other grains do. In fact, studies have shown that some people in the United States are exposed to more arsenic by eating rice than any other food, although the health hazards associated with it are uncertain.
❝ Andrew Meharg, an environmental chemist at the University of Aberdeen, U.K., decided to measure arsenic levels in baby rice, a precooked, dried, and milled rice product that is a staple for weaning infants. Meharg and colleagues analyzed 17 samples of baby rice from three manufacturers, all taken from supermarkets in Aberdeen. More than one-third of the samples contained levels of inorganic arsenic–the more toxic of the two arsenic forms normally found in rice–equal to or exceeding the legal limit of arsenic in food in China, which has stricter regulations than the European Union and the United States. A baby eating one serving per day would ingest more arsenic per kilogram of body weight than an adult drinking water with the maximum allowed E.U./U.S. dose, the team reports this month in Environmental Pollution.
The finding highlights the need for the European Union and the United States to restrict arsenic in food as well as water, says Meharg. “You can’t say you have to highly regulate one source and totally ignore another source…”
❝ Other experts are more cautious…Joyce Tsuji, a toxicologist at the science consulting company Exponent in Bellevue, Washington, warns that evaluating a baby’s arsenic intake from rice against drinking water standards is an “apples to oranges” comparison because water standards are based on risks extrapolated from studies of lifelong, high-dose exposure, not short-term childhood exposure. “We should be careful before telling people to throw their rice out,” she says.
Americans don’t realize how frequent naturally occurring arsenic is – especially in the Mountain West and the interior Plains states. For that reason, many folks out here are pretty cautious about all sources of arsenic. AFAIK the element leaves blood and urine quickly – exposure over time can be measured in hair and nail-clippings.
Worth keeping an eye on these studies.