FDA working on plan to limit arsenic levels in rice

September 19, 2012

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it is working toward a proposal that would limit the amount of arsenic in rice, which has been identified as a leading dietary source of the toxin. The announcement coincides with the release of a Consumer Reports study that analyzed more than 200 samples of roughly 60 rice products—from bulk rice to baby foods to instant cereals—and found that nearly all of them contained the “in­organic” form of arsenic that’s known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancers.

The FDA said it’s testing of rice products yielded similar results. But while Consumer Reports recommends that consumers reduce their rice consumption for now, the FDA does not advise a change in eating habits. It plans to test 1,000 rice samples in addition to the 200 it has already analyzed before making a recommendation late next year.

The government limits the amount of arsenic in drinking water, but virtually no standards exist for arsenic in foods. Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical element in soil and water that’s picked up in trace amounts by all plants. However, just because arsenic is naturally occurring, doesn’t mean it is safe.

The Consumer Reports study found that within every brand tested, the average inorganic arsenic found in brown rice was consistently higher than in white rice. That’s because arsenic collects in the dark-brown outer layer of rice grains, which are stripped when the grains are polished to produce white rice. But across brands, brown rice sometimes had lower levels of the arsenic than white, depending on where it was grown.

“We understand that consumers are concerned about arsenic being in rice and have been working hard to complete our data collection and analysis in order to better inform consumers,” said the FDA in a statement. “The FDA will be in a position to make a thorough assessment once the broader range of product testing is completed. We take seriously our responsibility to monitor and minimize risks from chemical contaminants, including arsenic. This is a priority for the FDA.”

FDA statement

Consumer Reports article