Is arsenic lurking in your baby's formula and cereal bars? If the brand you use lists brown rice syrup as an ingredient, the answer could be yes.
According to a study from Dartmouth College, testing performed on certain brands of organic baby formula and cereal bars containing brown rice syrup turned up levels of arsenic well above limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water.
Just how much arsenic did test samples contain? Consumer Reports published the following results:
- Two of 17 infant formulas tested listed organic brown rice syrup as the primary ingredient. In these two samples, one showed arsenic concentrations six times the federal limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for total arsenic in bottled or public drinking water.
- Twenty-two of 29 cereal bars or energy bars tested listed at least one of these four rice products—organic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice grain, or rice flakes—among the top five ingredients. Arsenic levels in bars with syrup or other forms of rice as an ingredient ranged from 23 to 128 ppb. The seven bars without rice syrup or other rice products in them had the lowest arsenic concentrations, ranging from 8 to 27 ppb.
At least one formula maker has responded by issuing a statement that clarifies their use of "a qualified, world-renowned, third-party, independent lab to test arsenic levels in their organic brown rice syrup. Their testing results report undetectable amounts of arsenic at laboratory testing limits."
Most of the detected arsenic is a contaminant often found in rice and is the type known to be a human carcinogen. As Consumer Reports relays, this may be particularly worrisome for babies who, because of their small size, may be more vulnerable to abnormally high arsenic consumption.
Concerned? Check the ingredients list for brown rice syrup—and then use common sense, advise experts. "Consider the frequency of … consumption," recommends Dr. Ana Navas-Acien, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who studies the health effects of arsenic exposure (via the Boston Globe). "If you eat them all the time, you might want to cut back, but having a product with brown rice syrup occasionally probably won't cause any harm."
When it comes to baby formula, which can be a baby's only source of nourishment, Dr. Nevas shows more caution. In samples that fall high above the EPA's standard for drinking water, she finds that "in the sense that it's above that safety standard, it's of concern."
Researchers promise to conduct more testing. In the meantime, they are calling on the government and manufacturers to put stricter standards for arsenic levels in food in place.