Arsenic Levels In Rice Prompt Concern

Research group pushes government for regulation

Published on: Sep 19, 2012
Still, Consumer Reports says their findings are enough to change eating habits. They recommend that consumers limit exposure by utilizing other grains with lower overall arsenic levels, rinsing raw rice before cooking and eating a varied diet.

In a statement Wednesday, Consumer Reports Director of Safety and Sustainability Urvashi Rangan said the goal is to inform consumers about actions they can take to reduce arsenic exposure.

"Given what we now know about arsenic's increasing role in contributing to multiple cancers and other serious health effects, the government needs to regulate arsenic in food. This includes setting standards and banning the practices that persistently deliver arsenic into our food and water supply," Rangan said.

But, USA Rice Federation doesn't believe the hype. They say the Consumer Reports study "employs an 'arsenic content standard' that doesn't exist in federal law. It cites federal health data to allege health risk from arsenic ingestion when that data is based on arsenic excreted from, rather than absorbed by, the body. It offers consumption advice without addressing all of the relevant public health issues that must be taken into account." (For more on their comments, click here)

Arsenic Prevalence

According to Purdue University scientist Jody Brooks, arsenic is an element that remains in the environment as a result of human inputs or natural processes. As plants grow, they may take up the arsenic from the soil or from water.

Brooks is currently studying the properties of a rare fern that can take up and store arsenic in its fronds, or leaves, in hopes that those traits may someday be used to divert arsenic from edible portions of plants into non-edible ones.

"There's two possible outcomes, one is that we can try to figure out how this particular plant takes arsenic out of the soil and stores it in its fronds, so that could be useful for getting plants to remove the arsenic from the soil," Brooks said. "The second thing is if we can understand how it is able to tolerate the arsenic, we can use this knowledge to modify a plant so it can grow in arsenic but it actually accumulates less."

Brooks said some plants take up more arsenic than others while growing, and understanding take up can help scientists monitor food safety.