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Concerning levels of known human carcinogen found in tests of more than 200 samples
Yonkers, NY – In Consumer Reports’ tests of more than 60 rice and rice products, inorganic arsenic, a known human carcinogen, was found in most of the name brand and other rice product samples. Levels varied, but were significant in some samples.
While there are federal limits for arsenic in drinking water, there aren’t many standards for arsenic in food. Earlier this year, Consumer Reports found worrisome levels of arsenic in apple and grape juices and called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set limits for arsenic in those juices.Based on its latest findings and analysis, Consumer Reports is asking the government to take additional steps, including urging the FDA to set limits for arsenic in rice and rice products.
“The goal of our report is to inform—not alarm—consumers about the importance of reducing arsenic exposure and offer actions they can take moving forward, such as limiting their rice consumption,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Director of Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports. “Given what we now know about arsenic’s increasing role in contributing to multiple cancers and other serious health effects, the government needs to regulate arsenic in food. This includes setting standards and banning the practices that persistently deliver arsenic into our food and water supply.”
Consumer Reports Findings
Consumer Reports tested a range of rice products including infant cereals, hot cereals, ready-to-eat cereals, rice cakes, rice crackers, rice pasta, rice flour, and rice drinks and found varying, but measurable amounts of total arsenic─including inorganic and organic forms─in samples of almost every product tested. Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen that can cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer. Two organic forms measured−called DMA and MMA−are classified as possible carcinogens.
Consumer Reports’ study provides a snapshot of the market, with many products purchased in the New York metropolitan area and online this past spring. It is too limited to provide general conclusions about individual brands or categories of rice products but there were notable findings.
The article “Arsenic in your food,” also appears in the November 2012 issue of Consumer Reports.
What the Government Should Do
Because Consumer Reports found significant levels of inorganic arsenic it believes more must be done to reduce dietary exposure.
“Consumers may be surprised to learn that similar to antibiotics, arsenic-containing drugs can be fed daily to chickens, turkeys, and pigs to promote growth, lower the levels of feed required, prevent disease in healthy animals, and color the meat,” Dr. Rangan said. “The manure of treated animals ends up containing arsenic too. It can also be used to fertilize food crops, which effectively introduces arsenic back into the food supply. We are asking the government to stop the cycling of arsenic in our food and water.”
What Consumers Can Do
For infants, children and pregnant women, risks maybe heightened. Arsenic risk is based on cumulative exposure over a lifetime. The recommendations are based on a person eating just one product per day or per week over a lifetime. If limits are exceeded one week, cut back the next.
Consumer Reports’ has a table with advice on how to limit consumer’s exposure to arsenic in rice and rice products.
There are other ways consumers can reduce their overall exposure to arsenic:
Consumers can urge the government to take action, by visiting www.consumersunion.org/arsenic.
Why Arsenic is a Concern
Inorganic arsenic, the predominant form of arsenic in most of the 65 rice products Consumer Reports analyzed, is ranked by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a known human carcinogen. It is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans, with the liver, kidney, and prostate now considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers.
Two remaining forms of organic arsenic found−DMA and MMA−are considered to be possible carcinogens. It is important to note that these forms can chemically interchange, especially in the environment, so the continued use of organic arsenicals in animal feed and pesticides is still a major concern.
Long-term studies that track health effects of exposure to arsenic in rice have only recently begun. One small study, published in late 2011 by Dartmouth researchers, suggests that many people in the U.S. may be exposed to potentially harmful levels of arsenic through rice consumption.
The USDA has invested in research to breed types of rice that can grow in areas that have elevated levels of arsenic in their soil. That may help explain the relatively high levels of arsenic found in rice from the south-central U.S., though other factors such as climate or geology may also play a role.
About Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.
Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.
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