Arsenic Exposure Now Through Rice

By: Saira Malhotra

Yet again, eyebrows are being raised at the food industry; this time it's rice. It's hard to imagine why these tiny pearly whites have become a cause for concern (unless you are an avid follower of the Montignac diet), but they have and the reason is alarming. Recent studies are pointing at rice for causing increased level of arsenic in our system. High levels of arsenic ingestion can lead to cardio vascular problems, cancer and skin lesions, however now, researchers are concerned about a specific community who are at great risk with even a 'low-dose' of exposure- pregnant women. Scientists are linking low dosage exposure of the chemical to low-birth weight and even infant death.

We are commonly exposed to arsenic through the water supply, however studies performed by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that rice is another vehicle for arsenic. This is also opening up another inquiry as to where else in the food supply this poisonous chemical is showing up.

The Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center at Dartmouth Medical School investigated 225 pregnant women whose urine was tested for arsenic. Seventy three of those women reportedly consumed rice on a daily basis whereas the rest of the women did not. The findings revealed that the daily rice-eating category demonstrated 5.27 mcg of arsenic per liter compared to their non-rice eating counterparts who showed a level of 3.38 mcg.

While these numbers are based on half a cup of daily consumption, there are communities that eat more than 2 cups of rice a day. For Asians and Latin Americans, rice is a daily staple that is often eaten 2 out of 3 meals. To add to our distress, rice is only one source for arsenic. Chicken is also a contributor as it is fed the drug 3-Nitro which contains a small amount of arsenic. Some argue that chicken and rice contain arsenic levels that are well below the range. However, grape and apple juice harbor arsenic too, and according to a new consumer report, they contain levels which should not be ignored and could lead to health problems.

While arsenic can have a detrimental impact on our health, the FDA does not impose standards for arsenic and lead levels. The Consumers Union is pushing for standards to be imposed by the FDA and proposing a limit of 3ppb (parts per billion) for total arsenic content in juice, compared to the average current 13.9ppb.

Photo: Hanoi Mark

For more food news updates, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)