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Experts Voice Concerns Over Arsenic In Rice

Posted:  Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Love to eat rice? But it may come at a price. Latest report states there is concerning levels of arsenic in 60 types of rice. High levels of arsenic causes cancer. Arsenic is a mineral in the earth's crust and is released into the environment through pesticide and fertilizer, meaning it shows up in soil and water. Rice absorbs it better than many other plants. Organic arsenic is less toxic than its inorganic counterpart.

Inorganic arsenic in rice and rice-based foods poses health concerns in infants and young children, and steps should be taken to minimize exposure, according to experts. The inorganic arsenic levels of dietary products used by children should be regulated, they say. The commentary includes the recommendation that "Rice drinks should not be used in infants and young children."

"Inorganic arsenic is considered a first level carcinogen and its long-term exposure has negative effects on human health," comments Dr. Iva Hojsak of University Children's Hospital Zagreb, Croatia, lead author of the Committee report. But currently, the arsenic content of foods is not regulated in the European Union or the United States. No "safe" level of arsenic can be identified -- any exposure may increase health risks.

The level of inorganic arsenic in rice depends on the type of rice and where it was grown. Rice has higher arsenic concentrations than other grains because of the unique physiology of the plant and because of the way it's grown, in flooded rice paddies.

High inorganic arsenic concentrations have been found in rice and rice-based foods -- mainly concentrated in the bran layers. "Therefore, the risk from consumption of products made from rice bran such as rice drinks is much higher than from raw, but polished (white) rice," the Committee on Nutrition points out.

There's special concern about exposure to arsenic in rice in infants and young children. Because of its availability, nutritional, value and relatively low allergenic potential, rice is a widely used carbohydrate source during weaning. In addition, rice and rice products such as starch, flour, and syrup are commonly added to infant foods and drinks.

"That contributes to high exposure of infants and young children to inorganic arsenic which is two to three times higher than in adults," according to the Committee report. Data are available on arsenic levels in infant foods and rice drinks, but data is limited for rice protein-based infant’s formulas.

Recommendations to limit exposure to arsenic in rice

Because of these concerns, the ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition urges regulation of the inorganic arsenic content of dietary products used by infants and children. Their recommendations state that rice-based formulas "are an option" for infants allergic to cow's milk, but the arsenic content of these products should be declared and considered by doctors and parents.

Otherwise, the Committee recommends avoiding rice drinks for infants and young children. The authors suggest limiting children's exposure to arsenic rice by including a variety of grains in their diets, such as oats, barley, wheat, and corn in addition to rice.