FDA Plans to Reduce Arsenic Levels in Rice

Lindsay Beyerstein

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We tend to assume that natural things are good for us. Well, inorganic arsenic is natural, but it’s definitely not healthy. In fact, it’s carcinogenic.

Rice is a leading source of inorganic arsenic in the American diet, and the FDA is poised to finally do something about it. The agency is expected to announce a proposal later today.

The government limits the amount of arsenic in drinking water, but virtually no standards exist for arsenic in foods. For years, consumer advocates have urged regulators to take action, singling out rice in particular, which consistently ranks as a top arsenic-containing food in a growing body of research. The Illinois attorney general’s office joined the fray this week, urging the FDA to limit the inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereals. [WaPo]

All crops grown in soil can absorb arsenic, but rice plants are especially efficient concentrators of the poison because they absorb it from the soil and the water in the rice paddies.

There’s no reason to think that rice is making people acutely ill, and nobody’s urging Americans to quit rice cold turkey. Still, since arsenic exposure is cumulative and the EPA recognizes no safe level of exposure, it’s prudent to reduce contamination of staple foods as much as possible.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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