WASHINGTON, May 27, 2015 – Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., last week introduced a bill that would require the Food and Drug Administration to set a maximum permissible level of inorganic arsenic in rice and food containing rice.
“High levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, can be found in rice, cereal and other common, everyday foods,” DeLauro said. “The federal government needs to step in to make sure that American families are consuming food that is safe. We have known about the dangers of arsenic for some time now, and there is no excuse for us not to take action.”
A spokesman for USA Rice Federation said the group had no comment on DeLauro’s bill. On its website, however, it said that FDA scientists in 2013, after testing some 1,100 samples of rice and rice products, "determined that the amount of detectable arsenic is too low in the … samples to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects."
In her news release, DeLauro included endorsements for her bill from Dr. Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center; Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group; and Dr. Sandra Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Hassink said the bill is a “critical step to protecting our children from inorganic arsenic exposure.”
USA Rice, however, quotes the chair of AAP’s nutrition committee, Dr. Stephen Daniels, in defense of its position. The organization points out that after the FDA released its report in 2013, Daniels called the agency’s data “reassuring.”
“While there is inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products, it is at a level that should be safe for consumption across the population” Daniels said, according to the website. “Diets that follow the AAP guidelines include a variety of foods and a variety of grains and remain a healthful approach to eating for children and adolescents.”
Arsenic is a chemical element present in the environment from both natural and human sources, including erosion of arsenic-containing rocks, volcanic eruptions, contamination from mining and smelting ores and previous or current use of arsenic-containing pesticides.
On its website, the FDA says it has been measuring total arsenic concentrations in foods, including rice and juices, through its Total Diet Study program since 1991. The agency has established a limit of 10 parts per billion in bottled water and has also proposed a limit of 10 parts per billion in apple juice, but there are no federal limits for arsenic in most foods, including rice, which takes up inorganic arsenic from soil and water more readily than other grains.
Among rice and rice products tested, FDA said brown rice was found to have 7.2 micrograms (mcg) of inorganic arsenic per serving, while basmati rice has 3.5 mcg and instant rice 2.6 mcg. That compares to pasta made with rice (6.6 mcg), and non-dairy rice drinks (3.3 mcg).
DeLauro’s bill directs FDA to develop a limit that protects the health of children and takes the rate of brain development and any differences in the metabolization of arsenic in children, (as compared to adults) into account.
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