How does arsenic get into foods? Do all foods have arsenic?

Arsenic may be present in many foods including grains, fruits, and vegetables where it is present due to absorption through the soil and water. While most crops don’t readily take up much arsenic from the ground, rice is different because it takes up arsenic from soil and water more readily than other grains. In addition, some seafood has high levels of less toxic organic arsenic.

Do organic foods have less arsenic than non-organic foods?

The FDA is unaware of any data that shows a difference in the amount of arsenic found in organic rice vs. non-organic rice. Because arsenic is naturally found in the soil and water, it is absorbed by plants regardless of whether they are grown under conventional or organic farming practices.

What are the health risks associated with arsenic exposure?

Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic is associated with higher rates of skin, bladder, and lung cancers, as well as heart disease. The FDA is currently examining these and other long-term effects. In looking at the research, there is an absence of the necessary scientific data that shows a causal relationship between those who consume higher levels of rice and rice products and the type of illnesses usually associated with arsenic. However, we are continuing to study this and note that other factors may be responsible.

Does the FDA test for arsenic in foods?

Yes, the FDA has been testing for total arsenic in a variety of foods, including rice and juices, through its Total Diet Study2program since 1991. The agency also monitors toxic elements, including arsenic, in selected domestic and imported foods under the Toxic Elements Program3, including those that children are likely to eat or drink, such as juices4.

What has the FDA done about arsenic in rice?

The FDA has increased its testing of rice and rice products to determine the level and types of arsenic found in these products as part of the comprehensive, science-based and risk-based approach the agency takes to minimize risks in the food supply from contaminants.

To help consumers understand arsenic levels in rice, FDA is releasing its first set of results based on analysis of nearly 200 rice products. This is part of a larger, on-going study and analysis of more than 1,000 samples of rice products. When the FDA has finished its analysis of more than 1,000 rice products, the agency will issue additional data and update our recommendations as necessary.

We are also working with USDA, EPA, CDC and the WHO as well as industry, scientists, and all others who can help us further study the issue, assess the risks, and find ways to reduce these levels.

We have met with industry, rice companies, including organic rice companies, and consumer groups to help us better understand the production, manufacturing, and sourcing or rice and other information relative to arsenic in rice and rice products.

The FDA will continue to work on this issue as part of our role in ensuring the safety of the food supply, and we will continue to keep the public informed of what we are finding and doing.

What are “rice products”?

Rice products are foods other than rice that contain rice and rice-derived ingredients, such as brown rice syrup. In the initial 193 samples collected by the FDA, scientists tested breakfast cereals, infant cereals, rice cakes, and rice beverages.

What do the FDA’s preliminary data on rice and rice products show?

The FDA’s analysis of the initial samples found average levels of inorganic arsenic for the various rice and rice products of 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving. This is part of a larger, on-going study and analysis of 1,000 rice products.

Based on recent data from surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average, people eat the equivalent of about 2 cups of cooked rice a week.

The preliminary data do not tell us what health effect, if any, these levels may have, nor do they tell us what can be done to reduce these levels. The data collection and analysis is a critical, but first, step to assessing risk and minimizing risk.

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.

What additional steps is FDA taking about arsenic in rice?

The FDA is collecting and testing an additional 1,000 rice and rice product samples in order to have a more thorough representation of the different types of rice grown both in the U.S. and overseas, and the wide variety of products that contain rice or rice products as an ingredient. We are testing both domestic and imported rice varieties, including white long grain, white medium grain, white short grain, brown, and basmati rice. Future sampling will also include rice crackers, rice water, infant formula, crispy rice marshmallow treats, rice wine, and breakfast and granola bars.

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.

Will FDA set limits for arsenic in rice and rice products?

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. This is a priority for the FDA. We are sharing our initial data with consumers now but are working on a robust data collection of more than 1,000 samples that will be completed by the end of the year. Our follow up risk assessment will give us a solid scientific basis for determining what limits and other steps are needed to reduce exposure to arsenic in rice and rice products.

The FDA is working closely with other agencies to evaluate the full range of measures that may be appropriate for the FDA and other agencies in the federal government to take to limit public exposure to arsenic.

When will FDA be done with its study?

The FDA is aiming to complete the additional collection and analysis of samples in the next several months, by the end of 2012. After that is complete, the FDA will conduct a full risk assessment and update recommendations as necessary.

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