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Study Finds Alarming Arsenic Levels in Rice

Nearly all commercially available rice and rice products may contain the “inorganic” form of arsenic that has been linked to bladder, lung, and skin cancer, according to a just-released study from Consumer Reports.

The study analyzed more than 200 samples of about 60 different rice products, including bulk rice, baby foods, and instant cereals, among others. Although levels varied by growing region, the highest levels of arsenic were generally found in brown rice and brown rice products including cereals, pastas, crackers, and syrups. Arsenic collects in the outer layer of rice grains, which is stripped when the grains are polished to produce white rice.

The report recommends minimizing arsenic exposure by rinsing rice before cooking, eating a varied diet (as some vegetables are higher in arsenic than others), and reducing overall rice intake.

Although the FDA is not recommending that consumers change their diet based on this research, the organization recently noted that its testing of rice products has yielded similar results.

Thus, the organization just announced that they are working on a plan to help reduce the amount of arsenic found in rice. The FDA plans to test 1,000 rice samples in addition to the 200 it has already analyzed before making a recommendation late next year.

Meanwhile, some toxicology experts believe the report may have overstated the risks of arsenic in rice. Arsenic is a naturally-occurring element found in air, water, rocks and soil. Thus, trace levels of the element are found in most foods, with the highest levels in fruits and vegetables (due to natural uptake during growing).

Toxicologist and Consumer Reports director Urvashi Rangan concluded: “[The report is] meant to give consumers guidance for moderating their consumption while the government considers the steps it might take to reduce the levels of arsenic in rice.”

For more information about the study, see the Consumer Reports writeup, which includes a detailed table of results.

Image Credit: tamaki/Flickr