Last month researchers at Dartmouth College found worrisome amounts of arsenic in organic brown rice syrup – a rice-based ingredient commonly used in infant formula, cereal bars and high-energy foods. The discovery raised awareness for the critical need to implement regulatory limits on the carcinogen in foods.
The report, which appears in February’s Environmental Health Perspectives set out to establish the concentrations of arsenic in commercial food products which contain organic brown syrup. To do this, the Dartmouth College research team purchased commercial food products containing organic brown rice syrup and compared them to like products made without rice syrup as an ingredient.
The study found that of 17 infant milk formulas tested, two had organic brown rice syrup as a primary ingredient. In these two formulas arsenic levels were 20 times greater than in other formulas. Additionally, one of the infant formulas with brown rice syrup had a total arsenic concentration six times above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking water limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for total arsenic. In the two formulas which tested positive for inorganic arsenic the results showed a presence of arsenic of roughly 8.6 ppb and 21.4 ppb.
The study also found that of 29 cereal bars tested, some bars which used organic brown rice syrup tested positive for two to twelve times more arsenic than the acceptable limit.
Arsenic is a natural element that can contaminate groundwater. Currently there are no federal restrictions in place for arsenic levels in food.
Last year, arsenic made headlines when Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” raised concerns that about one-third of apple juice samples that he’d tested contained arsenic levels exceeding 10 ppb. While Oz was initially criticized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration his findings were later substantiated by a Consumer Reports study which showed many apple and grape juice samples contain arsenic.
Currently there is no proof on the health risks of arsenic exposure in foods and liquids, though the exposure of arsenic in drinking water has been linked with increased risk of certain cancers, lung infections and heart disease. Additionally, women exposed to high concentrations of arsenic have been known to suffer miscarriages or from infertility. Families should be aware that arsenic is present in rice-based formulas and products and should limit their children’s exposure.
Last month, new legislation in Congress attempted to establish limits for the concentration of arsenic and lead in fruit juices.