The magazine conducted a study to decipher the amount of arsenic in everyday foods, which followed its study in January about arsenic in juices.
Consumer Reports stated in its findings, released in its November 2012 magazine, that federal officials should be urged to take action and regulate the amount of arsenic in foods.
“The results of our tests were even more troubling in some ways than our findings for juice,” stated the magazine. “In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern. Moreover, the foods we checked are popular staples, eaten by adults and children alike.”
Consumer Reports studied the amount of arsenic in rice and rice-based foods–infant cereal, hot cereal, ready-to-eat cereal, rice cakes and crackers, rice pasta, rice flour, rice drinks, rice syrup and rice vinegar.
The study, according to Consumer Reports, was a snapshot of the market, with many products purchased in the New York metropolitan area and online.
The magazine says it found five important trends in its study.
They discovered stated that white rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas generally had higher levels of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic in its tests. The four state’s white rice account for 76 percent of domestic rice. It also found that in any single brand of rice tested, the average total and inorganic arsenic levels were always higher for brown rice than for white. Arsenic levels were 44 percent higher in people who ate rice than those who did note; furthermore, certain ethnic groups were more highly affected, including Mexicans, other Hispanics and a broad category that included Asians. It is feasible to reduce arsenic in food, as they examined the efforts of two food companies–including Nature’s Own. And finally, experts with Consumer Reports believe that these findings dictate the need for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to limit the amount of arsenic in rice products and fruit juices, at least as a starting point.
The findings did garner the attention of the FDA who completed a small survey and is in the process of completing a larger survey that will be finished by the end of 2012.
Wednesday, the FDA released preliminary data on arsenic levels in certain rice and rice products, which is part of its larger FDA data collection effort. The first set of data featured about 200 samples of rice and rice products in the U.S. marketplace. It will analyze a total of approximately 1,200 samples to examine the issue thoroughly.
Through the first 200 samples and currently available data and scientific literature, the FDA has not found adequate scientific basis to recommend changes by consumers regarding their consumption of rice and rice products.
“We understand that consumers are concerned about this matter. That’s why the FDA has prioritized analyzing arsenic levels in rice. The FDA is committed to ensuring that we understand the extent to which substances such as arsenic are present in our foods, what risks they may pose, whether these risks can be minimized, and to sharing what we know,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. in its official release. “Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains – not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food.”
The release was seen as good news by many in the rice industry according to John Saichuk of the LSU AgCenter’s Southwest Region, located in Acadia Parish.
“We don’t know enough yet to take action,” he said. “We don’t want to be alarmists.
“The FDA has taken a good, clear stand. They are looking into it and certainly we will adhere to any directives they give us, but for now, the FDA believes as we do that it is OK to continue to eat rice.”
Saichuk also echoed the USA Rice Federation’s sentiments that while caution is important, not panicking is also important.
“Certainly we understand the concern, ‘arsenic’ is not a word to be taken lightly,” said Saichuk. “We need to take it seriously, but right now, we don’t know enough to act.”
“We understand that ‘arsenic’ is an alarming word, but we believe it is important for consumers to know that arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our air, water, rocks and soil. This is how plants uptake arsenic. As a result, it’s always been in the food supply and is in many healthy foods that are consumed by billions of people every day. No arsenical pesticides are used when growing U.S. rice,” said the USA Rice Federation, which represents U.S. rice growers and all segments of the U.S. rice industry, in a statement issued in response to Consumer Reports’ study.
“The fact is that the Food and Drug Administration is not recommending consumers change their diet based on this article. We agree with FDA that any limits set for arsenic in rice products should be the result of a carefully conducted risk-assessment -- based on an adequate sample of well-constructed tests -- that balances any yet-to-be-validated ‘risk’ against years of sound research into rice’s many nutritional benefits.
“The rice industry is committed to ensuring the quality and safety of rice and rice-based products. We will continue to work with regulators, including FDA, food scientists, nutritionists and manufacturers as they examine the issue. Additionally, we are conducting our own research to ensure that U.S. rice remains a safe, nutritious and affordable food for consumers.”
The federation has also launched a website, www.arsenicfacts.usarice.com, to help explain its stance and provide more information about rice in food and specifically rice in general.
The hope for many in the rice industry is that the FDA’s release will not steer more people away from rice as rice prices have already taken a beating this year.
“We’ve heard from rice growers and they concerned about how this will effect the marketing of rice,” said Saichuk. “The growers are who we have heard from most and for this to be added on top of the already low rice prices, it could be quite a problem.