Arsenic In Rice Is Cause For Worry, Study Finds

By Amir Khan on September 21, 2012 11:18 AM EDT

Rice
People who frequently eat rice may be at risk for high levels of arsenic in the blood, according to a new study, published in the magazine Consumer Reports. (Photo: Creative Commons)

People who frequently eat rice may be at risk for high levels of arsenic in the blood, according to a new study, published in the magazine Consumer Reports. The major consumer magazine found that rice contains levels of arsenic that can be dangerous, and it has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to launch an investigation.

Eating rice once a day can increase arsenic levels in the body by 44 percent, according to the magazine, and eating it twice a day can drive levels up by 70 percent.

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"So far our results...we actually have about the same number of samples in (and) these two data sets are fairly similar," Margaret Hamburg, FDA commissioner, told ABC News.

However, the organization said it sees no immediate threat to consumers from arsenic levels in rice.

"We are not recommending that consumers need to change their consumption of rice products in dramatic ways," Hamburg said. "We think the best advice is a balanced diet (and) it's good nutrition. There are lots of varieties of grains and other products that should be part of a balanced diet."

However, Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports, disagreed with that statement, saying "We think that consumers ought to take steps to moderate their consumption."

Researchers from the magazine tested 60 forms of rice, and though there is no limit for the amount of arsenic in rice, they found that many brands and products had up to one and a half times the EPA's legal limit for arsenic in drinking water.

Arsenic is considered a carcinogen and has been linked to bladder and lung cancer. The FDA announced that they will investigate the high levels, but Consumer Reports thinks more needs to be done.

"Foods really shouldn't be any different and as we look at the levels we're finding in these products there needs to be a standard set for these foods already," Rangan told ABC News. "We called for that on apple juice in January, we're calling for that again in rice products today" referring to a January investigation of data released by the FDA of arsenic levels in apple and grape juice."

The USA Rice Federation does not deny that rice contains arsenic, but said the levels are not worrisome.

These are very, very low levels," Dr James R. Coughlin, president and founder of Coughlin & Associates, an independent toxicology consulting company for the USA Rice Federation, told ABC News.. "Rice is a safe and nutritious food and in fact people who consume rice more frequently in their diets are actually healthier than other Americans."

The FDA said they will have a report by the end of the year, and urged parents not to worry.

It is critical to not get ahead of the science," FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor told the Chicago Tribune. "The FDA's ongoing data collection and other assessments will give us a solid scientific basis for determining what action levels and/or other steps are needed to reduce exposure to arsenic in rice and rice products."

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