* Group tests more than 60 popular rice products
* Nearly all contained some level of inorganic arsenic
* Recommends consumers limit weekly intake
* Food industry opposes singling out one source of arsenic
By Lisa Baertlein and Caroline Humer
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK, 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 to
Gerber infant cereal - showed most contained some level of
inorganic arsenic, a known human carcinogen.
The watchdog group said 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
Reports. "The silver lining in all of this is that it is
possible to get a better handle on this."
In the absence of government regulation, steps that
consumers can take include limiting infant rice cereal to one
serving per day for babies and excluding rice milk from the
daily diets of children under the age of 5, the report said.
Adults should eat no more than two servings of rice per week.
As replacements, it suggested other healthy whole grains
such as wheat, corn and oats, which have lower arsenic levels.
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 preliminary data on arsenic in rice
products is consistent with the Consumer Reports investigation.
It found average levels of inorganic arsenic for various rice
products of 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms per serving in about 200
samples. Consumer Reports notes that the most stringent U.S.
state restriction on inorganic arsenic in drinking water sets a
permissible limit of 5 micrograms in a single liter.
"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.
Consumers are likely to cut back on rice altogether rather
than try to follow specific guidelines, said Bob Goldin,
director of the food supplier practice at consulting firm
"I don't think consumers will dig that deep. I think they'll
just say 'Oops, there's something bad in rice,'" Goldin said.
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 groups representing the $34 billion
rice industry said singling out rice products 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.
Nestle Nutrition said in a statement that its
Gerber baby products, including its rice cereals, are safe to
consume. It added that it began exclusive use of California rice
for all of its rice-containing dry infant cereal earlier this
year. California has the lowest arsenic levels for rice grown in
the United States, the company said.
A spokeswoman for General Mills Inc, 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.
Two Rice Krispies products tested by Consumer Reports had
arsenic levels below the publication's recommended limits, but
Kellogg Co will work with the FDA, scientists and others
in the industry to review the data, said spokeswoman Kris
Officials at other food manufacturers and retailers,
including PepsiCo Inc's Quaker Oats were not immediately
available for comment.
LINKS TO DISEASE
Inorganic arsenic is deadly at high doses. It has been
linked to a variety of cancers, including skin, lung and
bladder, as well as heart disease and other illnesses.
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.
Food is a major source of arsenic in the American diet, as
the chemical is still used in feed for poultry and occasionally
hogs to prevent disease. Waste from those animals can
contaminate fields when it is used as fertilizer.
As a result, arsenic can be found in fruits, vegetables,
rice and seafood - all of which are considered healthy. The U.S.
government has a federal limit for arsenic in drinking water at
10 parts per billion (ppb).
"There is no such thing as a safe level of arsenic," said
Michael Harbut, a researcher and physician who leads the Barbara
Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute's Environmental Cancer Program at
Wayne State University in Detroit and treats people with arsenic
"Consumers should demand that the FDA do a better job of
patrolling inorganic arsenic in the food supply," said Caroline
Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the
Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit.
She added that the public would be well served with limits
that consider exposure to inorganic arsenic in water as well as
a variety of foods.
White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas,
which account for 34 percent of U.S. produced rice, generally
had higher levels of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic than
rice samples from elsewhere, including India and Thailand,
Consumer Reports said.
The group's 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. It found
measurable amounts of total arsenic - both inorganic and organic
forms - in samples of almost every product tested.
The tests also showed that brown rice had higher levels of
arsenic. That is 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, Consumer Reports said.