Breaking News: FDA Confirms Concerning Arsenic Levels in Rice

From our show, you've heard about high arsenic levels in apple juice. Now, a new report sheds light on arsenic levels in another food: rice.

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a new analysis confirming concerning high levels of inorganic and organic arsenic in rice products – white rice, brown rice, and rice products – confirming a similar Consumer Reports analysis. Though many experts have been urging the FDA to set limits for arsenic in food and food agencies in other countries have already set safety standards for rice, the FDA is still “not recommending that consumers change their consumption of rice and rice products at this time.”

In their analysis, the FDA tested nearly 200 samples of rice and rice products, which included ready-to-eat cereals, infant cereals, rice cakes, rice pasta, rice flour, rice drinks and rice crackers. They tested for inorganic arsenic – a Group class 1 carcinogen – and two forms of organic arsenic, DMA and MMA, which the Agency for Research on Cancer has labeled “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Their study found levels in rice products that confirmed the concerning levels in other studies. They released their full, detailed analysis on their website and mentioned that data from “more than 1,000 additional rice and rice product samples” will be posted as it becomes available.

This research mirrors Consumer Report’s analysis on 223 various rice products. Read the complete details of their results here. Consumer Reports also analyzed arsenic levels in those who consumed rice. They found that those who “eat rice have higher arsenic levels.” After assessing 3,633 study participants, they found that on average, “people who reported eating one rice food item had total urinary arsenic levels 44% greater than those who did not, and people who reported consuming two or more rice products had levels 70% higher than those who had no rice.”

Arsenic is a colorless, odorless and tasteless compound, which is naturally abundant in our environment in such places as rock formations, minerals and soil, and is also a byproduct of human agricultural and industrial pursuits. It’s important to understand we are all exposed to small amounts of arsenic on a regular basis from the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Ideally, we would have no arsenic exposure at all but that simply isn’t practical with a naturally occurring element. 

Because the rice plant is grown in water-flooded conditions, it is much more effectively exposed to arsenic from soil or water. Though this new analysis is disconcerting, a 2009-10 study from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that “rice contributes 17% of dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic, which would put it in third place, behind fruits and fruit juices at 18% and vegetables at 24%.”