- A recent study indicated that organic brown rice syrup – a common sweetener in organic food items could possibly contain arsenic. Certain baby formulas and cereal bars were found to have elevated arsenic levels due to this ingredient.
- Arsenic is naturally present and can contaminate groundwater, and rice appears to be especially vulnerable to becoming contaminated as it can absorb arsenic from the soil. Presently, there are no federal limitations on arsenic levels in food, but there are for its concentration in water.
- The study highlights the need for regulatory bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish and enforce regulatory arsenic limits in the food supply.
- This research emphasizes the importance of diverse nutrition and consumer awareness – it warns consumers about potential contaminants in organic food items and advises them to monitor the ingredients of products, particularly those based on rice.
- Organic does not necessarily mean healthier or safer – organic foods can also contain arsenic or other minerals, therefore, consumers should consult a registered dietitian to interpret new studies and understand how they impact individual dietary goals.
A recent study has suggested that organic brown rice syrup, a sweetener found in numerous organic items, could potentially contain arsenic.
Highlighting a Potential Issue
Researchers at an established College discovered that organic brown rice syrup also appears in some baby formulas. This information is found in the Environmental Health Perspectives publication.
Arsenic is a natural component present that can pollute groundwater. According to these researchers, rice might be especially susceptible to contamination given that it absorbs arsenic from the soil. At present, there are no established federal limits for arsenic levels in food, contrasting with limits set for its levels in water.
Understanding Arsenic Concentrations in Commercial Food Products
Lead Researcher, Dr. Brian Jackson, embarked on a mission to identify the concentration of arsenic in commercial food items featuring organic brown rice syrup. These items included baby formula, cereal/energy bars, and athlete-favoured high-energy foods. The team procured commercial food products containing organic brown rice syrup and juxtaposed them with comparable items lacking rice syrup.
They bought a total of 17 infant formulas, 29 cereal bars, and three energy shots from local outlets in the Hanover, N.H., region.
Out of the seventeen infant milk formulas tested, two of them highlighted organic brown rice syrup as the chief ingredient. The arsenic levels of these two formulas, one based on dairy and the other soy, were found to be over twenty times that of the other formulas.
One baby formula had an overall arsenic concentration six times more than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safe limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for total arsenic. The study showed that the quantity of inorganic arsenic, the most harmful form, averaged 8.6 parts ppb for the dairy-based formula and 21.4 ppb for the soy formula.
Cereal bars and high-energy foods incorporating organic brown rice syrup were also found to have elevated arsenic concentrations compared to those lacking the syrup, as per the study outcomes.
The Implications of The Findings
Dr. Jackson stated that “The baby formula findings are concerning”, particularly for infants and those on predominantly rice-based gluten-free diets. These groups are most at risk of consuming excessive arsenic through food, whereas “the risk for the occasional cereal bar eater is low.”
The Organic Trade Association mentioned that this research “adds to the mounting evidence indicating that arsenic dietary exposures pose a serious food safety concern.” The association agreed with Dr. Jackson’s team, recognizing the need for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish and enforce regulatory arsenic limits in our food supply.
Past Instances of Arsenic Levels in Foods
This is not the first time that arsenic levels in food have captured attention. In 2011, “The Dr. Oz Show” host, Dr. Mehmet Oz, triggered a public health concern, reporting that about a third of apple juice samples tested contained arsenic levels over the 10 ppb drinking water limit. At first, criticism from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was sharp, but a subsequent Consumer Reports study validated Oz’s findings, showing arsenic taint in numerous apple and grape juice samples.
The Health Risks
Dr. Jackson offered some insight, stating, “All we can fall back on is what we know about exposure through drinking water; risk of certain cancers or heart disease are slightly elevated with a certain level of arsenic.” Consumers should be aware that rice-based formulas can contain arsenic and should limit exposure. Checking the ingredients when purchasing formula is advisable.
Connie Diekman, director of nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, advised consumers against panic. As a registered dietitian, she encouraged consumers to view this study as a reminder that foods grow with many chemicals, both natural (found in the soil) and synthetic (used to foster growth).
Diekman argues that focusing only on single foods as ‘dangerous’ or ‘harmful’ miss the bigger picture of how they impact the overall diet.
Implications for Organic Products
Diekman posed, “whether organic foods contain more arsenic, or other minerals, than conventional foods is hard to estimate, but this study does remind us that organic is not necessarily equal with healthier/better for you/safe from harm”. She advises us to consult a registered dietitian to help decipher new studies and understand how these translate to our individual eating goals.
Seeking More Information?
To learn more about arsenic in food and drinks, you can visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.