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Arsenic in Rice

Recently the use of organic brown rice syrup in health food came under scrutiny when a 2012 Dartmouth study revealed disturbing levels of arsenic in tested toddler formulas, cereal bars, and energy products.  In the case of toddler formula, the total arsenic level was six times the amount allowed by the EPA for arsenic in water.  This standard is based on adults, not children.

Sadly, this news was not a new revelation.  It was just another disturbing study pointing to the rice and arsenic connection in which US and EU guidelines have not been established.

As I started to prepare an article for my website regarding the Dartmouth study, something just didn’t seem right. Call it mother’s intuition.

With the help of Professors Duxbury of Cornell University and Merharg, of Scotland University, I was able to put the pieces together.

What I learned about Arsenic:

Arsenic is naturally occurring in the soil.  However, we have increased the amount of inorganic arsenic in our soil due to pesticides use, water contamination, CCA wood preservatives, sewage sludge, and air pollution from burning fossil fuels and metal smelting.  The EPA has labeled inorganic arsenic as a known carcinogen.

Since rice is grown in water, it sucks up arsenic in the soil.  Eighty percent of rice grown in the United States comes from the South where arsenic pesticides were used.  Arsenic remains in the soil.  The balance of rice grown in the United States comes from California, where arsenic is more prevalent due to its geochemical profile.

Since organic brown rice syrup is a concentrated form of rice, it will naturally contain more arsenic.   Now I understood the puzzle.

But I was outraged.

Five years ago, a study done in 2007 by Dr. Meharg’s team revealed  that infants due to their low body weight, people who are on a gluten free diet and ethnic groups who ate rice as a staple could be at risk.  And here is when I cringed.  The November 2001 issue of Pediatrics reports estimated 15% of autistic children are on gluten free diets.

There is more.

In 2009, the UK Food Safety Standards warned parent as a precaution to stop giving children ages 1 to 4.5 years old rice drinks due to an arsenic/rice milk study.   Two years later, another Dartmouth study revealed that arsenic in pregnant women’s urine increased with rice consumption.  Now, in 2012, a year later, the organic brown rice syrups study.

For five years or possibly more, there hasn’t been any US or European Union guidelines on the amount of arsenic allowable in rice.  Short term health consequences for children exposed to low levels of arsenic are unknown.   Long term exposure to arsenic in drinking water includes high risk of lung and bladder cancer and increase risk to skin, liver, and kidney cancer. In addition, developmental defects, stillbirth, and spontaneous abortion as well as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes mellitus, and high blood pressure have been associated with long term arsenic exposure.

I was fuming.  Here’s why:

Both Professors told me that this issue was solvable.  The rice farmers could let their fields dry out more and flood them less.   This change in farming method would decrease the arsenic uptake.  Alternatively, Dr. Meharg suggested “selectively breeding arsenic-poor rice varieties.”  He further explained this is not to be confused with creating genetically modified seeds.

How many more studies did we need until the FDA and the EU take action?  I wasn’t waiting and started a petition at Change.org asking the FDA and the EU to limit the amount of arsenic in rice.  Something has to be done.  Please join me and voice your outrage.  Sign the petition and share it with your friends and family via Facebook, Twitter, and email.

For further information about the Dartmouth and other studies, read here, and advice how to eat rice safer, see here.

Anna Hackman is the editor of Green Talk, a green living and business blog, sustainability consultant, LEED AP, obsessed gardener, and mostly importantly, the mom of four boys.

Image:  LicenseAttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Molechaser

Comments

  1. I’m curious to know if any arsenic studies have been done on imported rice (e.g., from Thailand, Philippines and Japan).

  2. How can something so simple be overlooked like this. Argh…. Is this only in rice US or for rice all over?

  3. Thanks for sharing this about the high levels of arsenic in various rice products. I surely hope that farming can be changed in order to decrease the arsenic uptake in the fields ASAP!

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