YOU ASKED: Can you please comment on the “arsenic in your food” report?

Can you please comment on the “arsenic in your food” report that Consumer Reports released in November 2012? Should people be concerned about feeding their babes (I have a 15 month old) rice products (my baby happens to love rice cakes, for example)? Is there anything published in the peer reviewed medical/pediatric literature on this topic? Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on this.

The report by Consumer Reports is a compelling look at the quantities of arsenic found in various types of rice and rice products that they tested. Arsenic is found naturally all over the world in soil. Some plants happen to take up more arsenic than others and that’s how arsenic ends up in certain foods, such as rice. The truth is that arsenic being found in rice is not really something new. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been monitoring arsenic in rice for over 20 years. The new report by Consumer Reports has got the attention of the FDA and in response they are currently undertaking a wide-scale survey of over 1,000 samples of rice to verify the findings. The most recent FDA statement claims that it is premature for adults and children to modify their diets and completely avoid rice due to potential levels of arsenic.

In terms of feeding your infant rice cereals and rice products, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “offering children a variety of foods, including products made from oats and wheat, [to] decrease children’s exposure to arsenic derived from rice”. Should one be concerned? The fact is that too much of anything isn’t great for one’s health and it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to diversify your child’s diet to eat a variety of grains.

Before you scramble and throw out every product in your household that contains any trace of rice, it may instead be wiser to wait for the final results from the FDA. The FDA’s report is set to be released in the next few months. Even if arsenic is found to be at too high a level, the FDA will surely step in and impose restrictions on rice producers to decrease arsenic levels in their products. So, there’s no need to panic just yet about all that rice you’ve been eating, either way we’ll just have to wait to see what the experts recommend before we stop consuming all that starchy yummy goodness we find in rice!

Updates from the FDA can be found here: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FoodContaminantsAdulteration/Metals/ucm319870.htm

 

 

Aaron Rosen, McGill Medicine, year 2

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