The FDA is now taking measures to reduce inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal, a leading source of arsenic exposure in infants.
Arsenic is naturally occurring in the soil and the water. Fertilizers and pesticides also contribute to levels. Arsenic exists in two forms, organic and inorganic. When encountered in the diet, inorganic arsenic is considered to be the more toxic of the two. In addition, it has been found that rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic than other foods, in part because as rice plants grow, the plant and grain tend to absorb arsenic from the environment more than other crops.
It has also been found that (relative to body weight) rice intake for babies, primarily through infant rice cereal, is about 3-times greater than for adults. Moreover, national intake data show that people consume the most rice at approximately 8-months of age. The FDA also determined that inorganic arsenic exposure in infants and pregnant women can result in a child’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests that measure learning, based on epidemiological evidence including dietary exposures.
As a result. The Food and Drug Administration is now proposing a limit or “action level” of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. This is parallel to the level set by the European Commission (EC) for rice intended for the production of food for infants and young children. (The EC standard concerns the rice itself; the FDA’s proposed guidance sets a draft level for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal.) FDA testing found that the majority of infant rice cereal currently on the market either meets, or is close to, the proposed action level.
“Our actions are driven by our duty to protect the public health and our careful analysis of the data and the emerging science,” stated Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “The proposed limit is a prudent and achievable step to reduce exposure to arsenic among infants.”
The agency expects manufacturers can produce infant rice cereal that meet or are below the proposed limit with the use of good manufacturing practices, such as sourcing rice with lower inorganic arsenic levels. The FDA takes an action level into account when considering an enforcement action.
In the meantime, the agency is continuing to advise all consumers to eat a well-balanced diet for good nutrition and to minimize potential adverse consequences from consuming an excess of any one food. The agency is not advising the general population of consumers to change their current rice consumption patterns based on the presence of arsenic, but is providing targeted information for pregnant women and infants to help reduce exposure.
The agency recognizes that infant rice cereal is a common “starter” food for infants and notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically encourages consumption of iron-fortified cereals for infants and toddlers.
Based on the FDA’s findings with respect to inorganic arsenic in rice, the agency offers the following advice to parents and caregivers of infants:
· Feed your baby iron-fortified cereals to be sure she or he is receiving enough of this important nutrient.
· Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients for your baby, but it shouldn’t be the only source, and does not need to be the first source. Other fortified infant cereals include oat, barley and multigrain.
· For toddlers, provide a well-balanced diet, which includes a variety of grains.
Also based on the FDA’s findings, it would be prudent for pregnant women to consume a variety of foods, including varied grains (such as wheat, oats, and barley), for good nutrition. This advice is consistent with long-standing nutrition guidance to pregnant women from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to have half of their grains consist of whole grains.
Published studies, including new research by the FDA, indicate that cooking rice in excess water (from six to 10 parts water to one part rice), and draining the excess water, can reduce from 40%-60% of the inorganic arsenic content, depending on the type of rice – although this method may also remove some key nutrients.