FDA Analysis Shows No Short-Term Health Effects from Arsenic in Rice

An FDA analysis has found no short-term health risks from the presence of arsenic in rice and rice products, the agency announced September 6. Comprehensive analysis of potential health risks from long-term exposure is ongoing, according to the FDA. Simultaneously, the U.S. rice industry is undertaking its own investigations to better understand whether and how levels of arsenic in rice can be impacted, according to an industry advocacy organization.

The FDA tested more than 1,300 samples of various types of rice grains and rice products, including infant and toddler foods, rice cakes, cookies and pastries, desserts, and beverages. Among the rice grains, average levels of inorganic arsenic ranged from 2.6 to 7.2 micrograms (mcg) per serving. Among the rice products, average levels ranged from 0.1 to 6.6 mcg of inorganic arsenic per serving. None of these levels are high enough to cause immediate or short-term adverse health effects, the FDA said.

The next step will be to analyze the effects of long-term exposure to these levels of arsenic, a task complicated by the large numbers of rice products. No date has been given for the completion of this risk assessment.

“When we conducted the risk assessment on arsenic in apple juice that led to the proposed limit…of 10 parts per billion, we were essentially dealing with one product. With rice, there are different varieties and hundreds of products made with rice,” says Suzanne Fitzpatrick, PhD, senior advisor for toxicology in the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a blog post.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, noting that rice is often an infant’s first food, advised that parents offer their children “a wide variety of foods, including other grains such as oats, wheat and barley, which will decrease their child’s exposure to arsenic from rice.”

The rice industry, meanwhile, is conducting its own research to determine what affects the levels of naturally occurring arsenic found in rice.

“For example, the industry is studying the effects of milling and processing to see if the different levels of milling and types of processing have a measurable impact on the arsenic in the grain. The industry is also conducting agronomic research to determine how various water management practices impact arsenic levels, as well as yields, grain quality, pest and disease pressure,” according to a statement supplied to Food Quality & Safety by the USA Rice Federation on September 16 in response to an inquiry.

Some of these study results may be available in 2014, the advocacy organization says, although the results will have to be replicated to assess year-to-year variations.

“Due to the annual nature of crop production, studying this issue thoroughly will take several years,” the statement concludes.


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