Although this article was originally written over 1 ½ years ago, I am still receiving many questions about this issue and so, wanted to republish it below:
In a new report published last week [September 19th, 2012], the concern over arsenic in rice is causing Americans to think twice before they eat rice. Originally fueled by a study back in January that found high arsenic levels in apple and grape juice, rice is the next product to be succumbed to this “high arsenic” label. In the study, conducted by Consumer Reports, it is stated that rice eaten just once a day can drive arsenic levels in the human body up 44%, while rice eaten twice a day can lead to a 70% increase in arsenic. Especially startling is the fact that the majority of young infants are given rice as their “first solid”, exposing them to this toxin at a time when their bodies’ aren’t able to combat this potentially deadly carcinogen.
Arsenic is a natural substance found in water, air, food and soil. It also occurs as a result of contamination from human activity (such as burning coal, oil, or using pesticides that contain arsenic). There are two forms of arsenic: organic and inorganic. According to the FDA, organic arsenic passes through the body quickly and is essentially harmless. However, inorganic arsenic -- the type found in some pesticides and insecticides – is considered a level one carcinogen, linked to higher rates of lung, bladder, and skin cancers, as well as heart disease. Some studies have also suggested that chronic exposure to arsenic can contribute to cognitive and other developmental disabilities.
Due to the way rice is grown – in water on the ground – it creates the optimal conditions for the contaminant to be absorbed. In fact, when Consumer Reports tested a large variety of rice for arsenic, including white and brown, rice found in cereal for babies and adults, as well as in pasta and rice milk, many contained what the magazine called "worrisome levels of arsenic.” Some products had up to five times higher levels than the arsenic found in oatmeal and one and a half times more than the EPA's legal standard for drinking water. With more than 60 rice and rice products tested, including name brands, the issue seems to be a widespread concern.
Furthermore, geographic location also seems to affect the arsenic levels, with white rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas containing higher levels than rice samples from other parts of the country. Disturbingly, these four states account for 76 percent of domestic rice produced. [On a brighter note, California rice has the lowest naturally occurring arsenic levels for rice grown in the United States; Asia has lower amounts as well.]
Surprisingly, there are also higher levels of arsenic found in brown rice than in its less nutritional counterpart, white rice. This is due to the way the grains are processed since the carcinogen is most prevalent in the outer layers of the grain, and white rice is polished removing some of those layers.
There really needs to be some sort-of standard when it comes to arsenic in foods, especially since it is a known toxin. As of now, there are no federal standards for how much arsenic is allowed, and while the FDA has announced its concerns about rice and arsenic and has plans to study the issue further, they don’t seem to be promising much more. Their suggestion in the meantime – a varied diet. Yet until that becomes a reality, it is important to be aware of these findings and to take caution when eating rice and rice containing products, including: pastas, breads, rice syrups, etc.
On a side note, this study has also brought light to the fact that arsenic is fed to chickens, turkey, and pigs, and their manure is used as fertilizer for rice and other crops. Although the National Chicken Council condemns these findings, according to Consumer Reports: "There are around 100 arsenic-containing drug formulations currently approved for use in healthy chickens to promote growth, improve pigmentation, and prevent disease, including Roxarsone, which Pfizer voluntarily and temporarily suspended sales of in July of 2011. There are also other arsenic containing drugs approved for use in food animal production including Nitrasone which is currently on Pfizer's website. If the Chicken industry's current stance is that arsenic containing drugs are not required to grow chickens for meat, then they should be more than willing to support our position on a complete ban on the use of arsenical drugs in poultry production."
Based on all this information, my best advice is to:
In summary, you should always be cautious of what you put into your body (especially if you are pregnant)! And you should be just as cautious when feeding babies and children. You never know what’s in the soil that crops or livestock are raised on, and those contaminants are most likely getting into your food supply.
Diversify what you eat and try to buy and eat organically whenever possible. Yes, it may be a tad bit more expensive, but think of the future health costs you will be saving!
It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to the health of you, your children, and your family!