* Group tests more than 60 popular rice products
* Finds nearly all contained some level of inorganic arsenic
* Recommends consumers limit weekly intake of such products
* Food industry groups argue against singling out one source
By Lisa Baertlein
LOS ANGELES, Sept 19 Consumer Reports is urging
U.S. limits for arsenic in rice after tests of more than 60
popular products -- from Kellogg's Rice Krispies cereal
to Gerber infant cereal -- showed that most contained some level
of inorganic arsenic, a known human carcinogen.
The watchdog group said that some varieties of brown rice --
including brands sold by Whole Foods Markets Inc and
Wal-Mart Stores Inc -- contained particularly
significant levels of inorganic arsenic.
It recommended ways for children and adults to limit their
intake of rice products each week and said U.S. regulators
should ban arsenic-containing drugs and pesticides used in crop
and animal production.
"The goal of our report is to inform - not alarm - consumers
about the importance of reducing arsenic exposure," said Urvashi
Rangan, director of safety and sustainability at Consumer
"The silver lining in all of this is that it is possible to
get a better handle on this" through improved farming and
production practices, Rangan said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday that
it plans to collect data on 1,200 food samples by the end of the
year and make its own recommendation on arsenic intake.
The agency said its own preliminary data on arsenic in rice
products is consistent with the Consumer Reports investigation.
It found average levels of inorganic arsenic for the various
rice and rice products of 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms of inorganic
arsenic per serving in about 200 samples. Consumer Reports notes
that the most stringent U.S. state limit on inorganic arsenic in
drinking water sets a safety limit of 5 micrograms in a single
"Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to
eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains - not
only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential
consequences from consuming any one particular food," FDA
Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Consumer Reports called for limits on
arsenic in apple and grape juices after similar testing found
"worrisome" levels in those childhood staples.
Food manufacturers and industry groups said singling out
rice products for arsenic levels was alarmist.
"Recent media stories based on studies about high levels of
arsenic in rice are misleading the public about this issue,
given that arsenic is everywhere and present in air, soil,
water, and foods, including fruits and vegetables," the USA Rice
Federation said on its website.
A spokeswoman for General Mills, whose Rice Chex
cereal was included in the Consumer Reports study, said the
company was confident there should be no concern for consumers
eating their product. Officials at other food manufacturers and
retailers, including Kellogg Co, Nestle's Gerber unit
and PepsiCo Inc's Quaker Oats were not immediately
available for comment.
LINKS TO DISEASE
Food is a major source of arsenic in the American diet. It
can be found in fruits, vegetables, rice and seafood - all of
which are considered healthy.
Inorganic arsenic is deadly at high doses. It is a known
carcinogen that has been linked to a variety of cancers,
including skin, lung and bladder, as well as heart disease and
Organic arsenic is believed to be far less harmful, but two
organic forms measured - called DMA and MMA - are classified as
possible carcinogens, Consumer Reports said.
The United States has established federal limits for arsenic
in drinking water at 10 parts per billion (ppb). It is
monitoring arsenic levels in some foods but has not set limits
for arsenic in most foods.
Consumer Reports' rice tests included multiple samples of
more than 60 products - including white and brown rice, infant
rice cereals, rice crackers, rice pasta and rice drinks. The
group said it found varying but measurable amounts of total
arsenic - both inorganic and organic forms in samples of
almost every product tested.
Notably, testers found that one-fourth of a cup of uncooked
rice from samples containing the highest inorganic arsenic
levels would approach the amount of inorganic arsenic an adult
would get from drinking one liter of water at the federal
government's maximum limit of 10 parts per billion.
They also found that brown rice had higher levels of
arsenic. That's because arsenic is concentrated in its healthy
outer layers, which are removed to make white rice.
Products that raise particular concern for children - who
are still developing and have significantly lower body weights
than adults - include infant rice cereal, ready-to-eat cold
breakfast cereals and rice milk, they said.
The scientists advised limiting servings of those products.
In particular, they recommended not exceeding one serving of
infant rice cereal per day and excluding rice milk from the
daily diets of children under the age of 5.
As replacements, they suggested other healthy whole grains
such as wheat, corn and oats, which have lower arsenic levels.
Nutritionist Julie Jones, speaking on a call hosted by the
food industry-funded International Food Information Council
Foundation on Tuesday, called the concern about arsenic in the
U.S. food supply "misplaced" and said consumers should be more
concerned about eating a healthy diet.
Jones added that certain elements of a good diet such as
fiber can help reduce the harmful effects of arsenic.
Michael Harbut, a researcher and physician who treats people
with arsenic poisoning, said the scientific data does not
support such claims.
"There is no such thing as a safe level of arsenic," said
Harbut, who leads the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute's
Environmental Cancer Program at Wayne State University in