Posted By Karin on January 25, 2013
Poison in Our Rice
By Karin DuBois
If you’re eating sushi, put down your chopsticks.
Consumer Reports tested more than 200 samples of rice products, including rice cakes, brown rice, white rice, rice cereals for babies, and both conventional and organically grown rice, and found that all products tested positive for arsenic. Most samples contained significant levels of inorganic arsenic, a toxin that the Environmental Protection Agency lists as a potent carcinogen with no safe levels of consumption. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency also says consuming arsenic leads to health problems in humans, especially cancer (it is known to cause bladder, lung and skin cancer and may also contribute to liver, kidney and prostate malignancies). Yet in both Canada and the US, there are no regulations concerning the amount of arsenic allowed in rice and there are no recommended limits on daily rice consumption either.
Arsenic is found in the earth’s core and gets absorbed into soil, water, rock and air through natural weather processes. The toxin is also used in pesticides and wood preservatives, causing soil contamination. Since arsenic can persist in the earth for 45 years, insecticides that were used decades ago and are now banned can still poison our crops today. According to The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, most human exposure to inorganic arsenic occurs from drinking water and food consumption, most notably rice (other grains, such as wheat, have significantly lower levels of arsenic).
Studies looking at the varying levels of arsenic in different types of rice are limited but brown rice seems to contain higher levels of arsenic than white rice, likely because a large amount of the toxin is absorbed into the grain’s outer hulls, which are then stripped to create white rice. It is currently unclear whether arsenic levels differ in organic (versus conventionally grown) rice.
While concerning amounts of arsenic were detected in all types of rice, young children consuming rice products may be particularly vulnerable due to exposure to the toxin during crucial years of development. Consumer Reports noted “worrisome levels” of the poison in infant cereals, including one sample of organic brown rice cereal that tested at 329 ppb. As a reference point, the federally regulated limit for arsenic in water in the United States is 10 ppb. Infants are often given rice cereals instead of wheat-based food products because they are less allergenic, but based on the potential for arsenic consumption, some toxicology experts think parents should be concerned.
Michael Waalkes, laboratory chief at the Division of the National Toxicology Program, says being exposed to a toxin like arsenic while in utero or in early childhood – a time when cell development in the body is vital – can cause damage that could appear decades later (Waalkes co-authored a June 2012 study that concluded that early life exposure to arsenic caused cancers and other illnesses later in life).
Consumer Reports took their findings one step further and analyzed over 3600 Americans who consumed rice to see if they had higher levels of arsenic in their bodies than those who didn’t eat rice. They found that those who ate one or two portions of rice had respectively 44 and 70 percent higher levels of arsenic in their urine than those who avoided the grain.
Based on these findings, Consumer Union, the advocacy branch of Consumer Reports, has set recommended limits for rice product consumption in both children and adults. For example, they recommend no more than one rice cake per week for children, and no more than two and a half per week for adults. They are also urging the public to take action and lobby their governing agents for regulations to be set.
To read the complete results of the Consumer Reports investigation on arsenic in rice, please click here: