Chemicals in toys. Toxins in baby bath products. Air pollution. Want one more thing to worry about? This time, try rice. According to a new report out from Consumer Reports, rice—and foods derived from rice, including rice cereal, rice drinks, and rice crackers—contains the toxic mineral arsenic, and often in troubling amounts.
We're not just talking a few brands or isolated batches, either. In independent lab testing carried out for Consumer Reports, virtually every rice product tested contained measurable levels of arsenic—including inorganic arsenic, which is a known carcinogen.
What did testing specifically show? According to Consumer Reports:
- White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, which accounts for 76 percent of domestic rice eaten in the United States, generally had higher levels of inorganic arsenic than rice samples from elsewhere (measured in parts per billion).
- Brown rice samples tended to have higher levels of arsenic than white rice.
- Among the four brands of infant rice cereals tested, researchers found a wide variety of arsenic ranges, even within the same brand. For example, Gerber SmartNourish Organic Brown Rice cereal had one sample with the highest level of total arsenic, and another sample with the lowest levels.
- Earth's Best Organic Whole Grain Rice cereal turned up the highest levels of inorganic arsenic per serving, ranging from 1.7 to 2.7 micrograms, depending on the sample.
No one wants arsenic in their food, and certainly not in their baby's food. So what's a parent to do? To reduce risk for possible arsenic exposure, Consumer Reports recommends that babies eat "no more than 1 serving of infant rice cereal per day on average. And their diets should include cereals made of wheat, oatmeal, or corn grits, which contain significantly lower levels of arsenic."
For some parents, following these recommendations could mean a diet overhaul. According to federal data, it's common for many infants to eat up to two to three servings of rice cereal a day; for babies with food allergies, eating rice cereal is often a mainstay.
However, there are lingering questions about what all these parts per billion and micrograms even mean. Another arsenic study reported on a few months back by NPR says that eating about a ½ cup of cooked rice daily is equivalent to drinking a liter of water with arsenic at the maximum 10 parts per billion level considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. But that standard was set for water, which people drink a lot of every day. What about food—is there a safe cut off there, too? Is it perhaps more than water? The FDA still doesn't have an answer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics so far says that until more is known, it makes sense right now to help babies and toddlers starting solids to eat a variety of foods. In a press release commenting on the report, the AAP offers this proceed-with-caution approach: "While additional research, including the results of the ongoing FDA study, will be needed to provide detailed recommendations, [the AAP] believes that at the individual level, offering children a variety of foods, including products made from oats and wheat, will decrease children's exposure to arsenic derived from rice."
And we've got a little more bad news for you. We reported earlier this year that arsenic is also found in some brands of baby formula and toddler foods made with organic brown rice syrup. And another recent study found arsenic in many brands of apple juice. The AAP's advice? Consider cutting or eliminating juice to reduce your child's risk because kids don't need juice anyway—and diversify your diet.
Umm... Is your cupboard as bare as ours right now?