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Posted September 19, 2012

FDA Reports Arsenic in Rice Products -- Particularly Brown Rice

On September 19, 2012, the U.S. FDA released results of its testing of nearly 200 samples of rice and rice products, finding appreciable levels in many products, although the amounts in only a few exceed the cancer-warning threshold of the State of California (10 mcg per daily serving).

The FDA has been monitoring arsenic levels in rice for more than 20 years, but its researchers are now better able to measure whether those levels represent inorganic arsenic (considered more toxic) or organic arsenic (considered less toxic), apparently spurring the new wave of testing.

Among different types of rice, the lowest levels of inorganic arsenic were found among "basmati" rice products, most of which contained about 2 to 3 mcg in a 45 gram serving of rice -- equal to about 1 cup of cooked rice. The highest levels of inorganic arsenic (10 to 11 mcg per serving) were found in several "brown" rice products which were labeled as "long grain" or "whole grain." Unlike white rice, brown rice includes the bran which, while high in fiber, also contains higher concentrations of arsenic than the more starchy part of the grain. The country of origin (USA or India) did not appear to coincide with higher or lower levels. A summary of the findings is available online, although brand names are not identified.

Among breakfast cereals, including puffed rice and crispy rice, the highest levels of inorganic arsenic were found in a "cream of brown rice" (9.7 mcg per 1 cup serving), followed by a "rice chex gluten-free" product (4.3 mcg). Arsenic was also found in rice cakes, over a dozen of which contained approximately 6 to 8 mcg per serving (2 cakes). Arsenic appeared to be undetectable in most rice beverages ("rice milks"), likely due to the large dilution of the rice component in these beverages. Nevertheless, two "organic" rice beverages contained 3 to 4 mcg of inorganic arsenic per 240 mL serving.

Simultaneous to the FDA's publication of these results, Consumer Reports published its own test results for rice and rice products, with findings similar to those of the FDA.

For now, the FDA is not issuing any warnings for rice products, but is advising consumers continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains — not only for only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food. The agency is paying particular attention to rice and rice products consumed by children, as well as consumers like Asian-Americans and those with celiac disease who may consumer higher levels of rice. The FDA will be testing 1,000 additional rice products.

In its upcoming tests of Product Review of Protein Powders, Shakes, and Drinks, ConsumerLab.com will be testing all products (which include rice-based products) for arsenic and cadmium, as well as for lead which has been included in prior tests. Interestingly, in ConsumerLab.com's most recent review of these products, only those containing protein primarily from rice contained excessive lead; those made from protein sources such as whey, casein, and pea protein, did not.

For more information about the FDA's testing use the link below.