Arsenic. When I hear that word I immediately think of a TV mystery where someone’s lover is poisoned to death via the toxin. Today, arsenic is not the star in some made-for-tv drama but rather a news-maker for a completely different reason. Arsenic is in our food and you could be eating it every day. Have you read the recent reports of elevated arsenic levels in apple juice? Just weeks later, and now, it’s showing up in many organic food products.

Environmental chemist, Brian P. Jackson, and his team at Dartmouth, discovered that organic foods containing the popular alternative sweetener, brown rice syrup, tested high for arsenic. Among the foods tested were infant formula, cereal bars, energy bars, and energy “shots.”

“Arsenic occurs in several forms, some thought to be more dangerous than others. Organic forms of arsenic can be found naturally in the soil, along with arsenic-based pesticides used before the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] banned them in 2009. Rice, Jackson noted, ‘takes up more arsenic than all the other grains.’

Inorganic arsenic is considered much more toxic than organic arsenic, Jackson said. Brown rice is usually higher in total arsenic and inorganic arsenic than white rice because the outer layer that’s removed in white rice contains the inorganic arsenic. However, another form of arsenic can be found inside the grain of both white and brown rice.”

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Rice can be a major source of inorganic arsenic for certain sub-populations. Of major concern was the elevated arsenic found in organic infant formula where brown rice syrup was the first ingredient. Several brands tested 20-30 times higher in arsenic than other formulas and at levels up to 6 times the EPA safe drinking water limit.

Related Report: Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup is a popular alternative to high fructose corn syrup and sugar and is found in a wide variety of foods.  Many adults are also consuming more rice in their diets in general as gluten-free and organic food products continue to see explosive growth. As people switch to rice-based or rice-containing foods instead of wheat products, they may be unknowingly ingesting more rice (and therefore more arsenic) on a daily basis.

According to the EPA’s website, the health effects associated with arsenic are:

“Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness in hands and feet; partial paralysis; and blindness. Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.”

The EPA has set the arsenic standard for drinking water at 10 parts per billion for total arsenic (a combination of organic and inorganic forms). The really scary news to all this is that there is currently no US regulations limiting or monitoring arsenic levels in our food. Jackson concludes that based on their findings, “…there is an urgent need for regulatory limits on arsenic in our food.” You think??

What to do:

Until there is some assurance from our government or at the very least from food manufacturers that they are actually testing regularly for arsenic levels, you may want to consider reducing overall consumption of products containing brown rice syrup. If breastfeeding is an option, skip the infant formula all-together and reduce the arsenic exposure risk.


Environmental Protection Agency
Environ Health Perspect.
ABC News
Image: Rob Qld via Flickr