Arsenic in baby rice sparks calls for updated regulations

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Inorganic arsenic, Carcinogen

A lack of regulation means a third of baby rice on sale in the UK
contains worryingly high levels of carcinogenic inorganic arsenic,
according to researchers.

The study, carried out by scientists from the University of Aberdeen and published this month in the journal Environmental Pollution,​ said this meant some children could be getting six times the recommended inorganic arsenic for their weight. The levels detected in some of the samples would be illegal in China, where there are stringent controls in place. But while there are EU and US regulations for arsenic levels in drinking water, there are currently no laws to direct the amounts of arsenic allowed in food products. Furthermore, current guidelines on intake are based on outdated research conducted before arsenic was found to be a carcinogen, according to the researchers. This calls into question the need for am urgent review on the situation. "It is apparent that inorganic arsenic levels in baby rice should be of concern,"​ said lead scientist, Andrew Meharg. "Food standards are out of step with drinking water regulations, which have received recent revision." ​The UK Food Standards Agency said it disagrees with the study's claims, saying the current levels or arsenic in rice do not raise concern. It has issued reassurance to consumers saying the studies make comparisons with drinking water standards that are not appropriate. Arsenic health risks ​Inorganic arsenic is a chronic exposure carcinogen, therefore being directly related to the development of cancer. Young children are particularly susceptible to the health risks from arsenic because of their lower bodyweight. Also, research has found excess exposure during critical periods of a child's development to be of particular concern, said the study. As a result, there have been concerns over inorganic arsenic content in drinking water, with accepted levels of 10 micro grams per litre adopted by Europe and the US. However, according to researchers, recent studies have indicated that arsenic in rice may contribute significantly to dietary inorganic arsenic consumption. The study authors wrote: "Rice is particularly susceptible to As [arsenic] accumulation compared to other cereals as it is generally grown under flooded conditions where As mobility is high. Baseline levels of As are 10-fold higher than other cereal grains." The study ​Three brands of pure baby rice formulae from different manufacturers, with samples from each supermarket chain, were tested. Inorganic arsenic levels in pure baby rice ranged from 0.06 to 0.16 mg per kg. According to the scientists, these levels are high, with 35 per cent being illegal for sale in China, which has a food standard of 0.15 mg per kg inorganic arsenic. "A level of 1 mg/kg is often cited in literature as being a safe level for arsenic in foods, and specifically for rice,"​ wrote the authors. "This is theUKstandard set back in 1959 (The Stationary Office, 1959), four decades before national and international health organisations published comprehensive reviews of inorganic arsenic's chronic carcinogenicity.​ Three servings per day of rice containing the highest levels of arsenic would amount to six times more than the maximum permitted for drinking water under EU and US laws. In the most extreme cases, a child could eat other rice-based products on top of this in the form of crackers, biscuits, puffed cereals, and puddings. Sources Environmental Pollution ​Available online, doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2008.01.043 "Inorganic arsenic levels in baby rice are of concern" ​Authors: Andrew Meharg, Guoxin Sun, Paul Williams, Eureka Adomako, Claire Deacon, Yong-Guan Zhu, Joerg Feldmann, Andrea Raab. Environmental Pollution ​Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2008.03.015 "Exposure to inorganic arsenic from rice: A global health issue?" ​Authors: Yong-Guan Zhu, Paul Williams, Andrew Meharg

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