Urgent need to set maximum levels of inorganic arsenic in our food

By 13. October 2015Blog, Health, Risk Management

A story that is receiving a lot of coverage in the UK after being picked up by the press. Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast have published a paper cautioning against eating too many rice products due to inorganic arsenic levels.

So, let’s look at some facts:

  1. Arsenic comes in two forms: organic and inorganic. Inorganic is the more toxic kind.
  2. Rice plants, unfortunately, like to concentrate arsenic in their seed, aka rice. This can be 10 times higher than that present in wheat or barley.
  3.  Rice is grown in rice paddies that is flooded with water. This water, in many rice producing areas can be contaminated with inorganic arsenic.
  4. There are many rice products aimed at young children.

The researchers wanted to measure the arsenic levels in rice and rice products and so gathered a large sample of commercially available products and measured them. We can’t summarise the entire publication here but here are a few points:

  1. Some brown rice products had higher levels of inorganic arsenic than white rice products. This is because arsenic is concentrated in the bran.
  2. People should keep in mind organic products can also be contaminated with arsenic.
  3. Your (or your child’s) exposure to arsenic is cumulative. That is to say, everything rice based that is consumed can be increasing your exposure to arsenic.

With these points (and many others) in mind, the researchers say there is an urgent need for regulatory limits of inorganic arsenic.

Let’s be clear here, you don’t have to stop eating rice. Just be aware that there can be arsenic present and so perhaps it’s wise to restrict the amount of rice based products in the diets of our little ones. The Food Standards Agency in the UK also recommends not to give babies or toddlers rice milk. This is all down to exposure, a baby is very small but consumes alot of milk relative to his/her body size and therefore gets a higher exposure than an adult.

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