Consumer Reports Investigation Finds Arsenic In Variety Of Rice Products

Rice is one flexible little grain. It’s found in cereal (hot and cold), baby food, rice cakes, crackers, pasta, vinegar, syrup, flour and beverages. But a new Consumer Reports study of 60 rice products found varying levels of no one’s favorite ingredient: Arsenic.

The investigation, available at ConsumerReports.org, covered a wide range of rice products and included household brand names like Gerber, Carolina, Goya, Uncle Ben’s, Chex, Rice Krispies, along with store-brand products from chains including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Walmart.

Every product tested contained some measurable amount of total arsenic, ranging anywhere from 4.6-568 parts per billion. Of greater concern is the number of products that contained inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen tied to bladder, skin and lung cancer.

Since there is no current federal limit for arsenic in most foods, Consumer Reports took the most stringent state limit on arsenic in drinking water — New Jersey’s at 5 parts per billion — and figured that consuming a liter of such water would expose you to 5 micrograms of inorganic arsenic.

So using 5 micrograms/serving as the threshold, the CR tests found that a majority of the more than 30 rices tested had some results exceeding this number. Some rice samples came back with as high as 9.6 micrograms/serving of inorganic arsenic.

WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?
Of minor relief to parents and caregivers of small children may be the results of the tests on infant cereals. While
all of the samples of the five infant cereal products tested by Consumer Reports did come back positive for inorganic arsenic, none of the samples exceeded the 5 microgram threshold. The infant cereal with the most inorganic arsenic — Earth’s Best Organic Whole Grain Rice — had a high-end result of 2.7 micrograms/serving.

Similarly, neither of the two rice drinks tested by Consumer Reports showed results higher than 4.5 micrograms/serving. However, the folks at CR believe that parents of children under the age of 5 may want to refrain from including rice milk in their kids’ daily diet.

WHERE IS IT COMING FROM?
When looking at the geographic origins of the rice products, CR found that white rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas generally had higher levels of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic than rice samples from elsewhere (India, Thailand and California combined).

One of the reasons for the higher levels of arsenic in rice from these states goes back to the days when cotton fields covered the region. Pesticides containing arsenic were used for decades to combat pesky boll weevils.

And even though arsenic can actually reduce rice yields, Andrew Meharg, professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and co-author of the book Arsenic & Rice tells Consumer Reports that the Department of Agriculture has invested in research to breed types of rice that can withstand arsenic.

So though the rice may be able to grow in the presence of arsenic, that doesn’t mean the plant contains less arsenic when consumed.

WHAT’S TO BE DONE ABOUT THIS?
This latest arsenic investigation comes less than a year after Consumer Reports found alarming levels of arsenic in apple and other fruit juices. That report eventually resulted in legislation aimed at setting limits on how much arsenic and lead can show up in these drinks.

Thus, Consumer Reports is asking the FDA to set limits for arsenic in rice products. The organization is also pleading to the EPA to phase out the use of pesticides that contain arsenic. CR says the EPA, along with the USDA, could also do folks a service by putting an end to the use of arsenic-laden manure as fertilizer for all foods — oh, and pretty please stop feeding manure to animals.

“Consumers may be surprised to learn that similar to antibiotics, arsenic-containing drugs can be fed daily to chickens, turkeys, and pigs to promote growth, lower the levels of feed required, prevent disease in healthy animals, and color the meat,” explains Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Director of Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports. “The manure of treated animals ends up containing arsenic too. It can also be used to fertilize food crops, which effectively introduces arsenic back into the food supply. We are asking the government to stop the cycling of arsenic in our food and water.”

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  1. TuxthePenguin says:

    Okay, CR should know better than to just give us the range. What was the distribution, mean and standard deviation of their tests. They article linked says they tested 200 items. If one of them tested at the high end but 99% of the rest were in the 4-10 parts per billion range, the above posted range is still true… if not misleading.

    Oh look, here’s a summary of their findings: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/arsenicinfood.htm#chart

    So now lets look at it – inorganic. Most rice is okay with the 5 parts per billion (and is that a good standard? Most strict doesn’t mean it is the best…). Infant cereal is perfect. Hot cereal seems mostly good with the exception of one. Actually, going down most of them seem fine

    And do we have any studies showing that these high levels of arsenic are causing a problem? For a publication that is supposedly for the betterment of Consumers, it certainly seems that there isn’t any thought about the tradeoff to consumers of higher regulations and the cost associated with it. That’s what you need to really decide things like this.

    • Chuft-Captain says:

      The report I saw on the news this morning said basically *all* rice had “high levels”, but of course did not quantify what that meant – high as in dangerous? High as in higher than the lowest levels found in tests?

      My immediate thought on the story was “Billions of people all over the world eat a goodly portion of rice at least twice a day, and none of them are coming down with arsenic-related symptoms on any kind of widespread, regular basis, so it must not be that big a deal”.

    • Velifer says:

      This is exceptionally bad science wrapped in scare quotes. Print sales down this quarter?

  2. Abradax says:

    Is my Rice a roni rice pilaf safe?

    Arsenic is a small price to pay for such deliciousness.

  3. WarriorWife says:

    Only slightly unrelated, but one of the worst bouts of food poisoning I ever had came from rice. My mom informed me that it should be handled more delicately than it is, since all the moisture can harbor some seriously nasty stuff.

    All on the day I had an interview with Robin Meade. Aw. Ful. Now I am sure weary of eating rice from restaurants.

  4. WarriorWife says:

    Only slightly unrelated, but the worst bout of food poisoning I ever had came from rice. My mom informed me that it should be handled more delicately than it is, since all the moisture can harbor some seriously nasty stuff. I had never even thought about it until I was shivering on the floor in a cold sweat.

    All on the day I had an interview with Robin Meade. Aw. Ful. Now I am sure weary of eating rice from restaurants.

  5. Kahlidan says:

    There’ll probably be a new psuedo-documentary called Arsenic and Old Rice.

  6. Banished to the Corner says:

    I read an article yesterday about kidney disease in Sri Lanka, it spoke about the belief from doctors/researches that it’s caused by farm chemicals, cadmium and arsenic.

    I know there’s also been a huge increase of kidney disease in Central America- but I haven’t seen if they’ve determined any causes. (I heard this on NPR).

    BBC article (from PRI): http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/news/uk-19628295

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      Arsenic is highly common in ground water…which of course would ultimately show up in any crops that were grown irrigated by said water…

      Before you necessarily point fingers at rice (or any other food), look first at the water.

      But remember, arsenic is all-natural. So, that means it’s necessarily good for you right?

      /retard

  7. wombats lives in [redacted] says:

    Proudly Made In America: Arsenic Rice

  8. Hi_Hello says:

    Oh yea, I go rice shopping at my mom’s place. She has a giant trash can full of rice which comes from Thailand.

  9. BrianneG says:

    California defines a carcinogenic level of arsenic in soil as 0.07 milligrams per kilogram. Compare that to the naturally occurring concentration in southern California soil of 12 milligrams per kilogram.

    Also, that carcinogenic level refers to a one in a million risk, which means that one more person in a million people will get cancer due to the arsenic. However, 25% to 35% of people are going to get cancer anyway. So that’s ONE more person in addition to the 250,000 to 350,000 people that are already going to get cancer. That’s a little difficult to quantify.