Inorganic arsenic levels in infant rice cereals: Action by the Food and Drug Administration

What you need to know now about inorganic arsenic.

Nutrition and food choices weigh heavily on parents’ minds, and many are shocked and confused by recent reports of arsenic in rice cereal. Four questions can go a long way in informing and equipping parents and cargivers: Why Now? and What are the facts? What it means? and What should be done? Armed with answers and resources good health decisions are possible.

Why now?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to reduce inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal, a leading source of arsenic exposure in infants. National data shows that the most rice in terms of portions to weight is eaten at 8 months of age; nearly three times greater than for adults. “Our actions are driven by our duty to protect the public health and our careful analysis of the data and the emerging science,” said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Study and Data

The Food and Drug Administration has released “data showing the levels of inorganic arsenic in 76 samples of rice cereals for infants. The FDA’s data show that nearly half (47 percent) of infant rice cereals sampled from retail stores in 2014 met the agency’s proposed action level of 100 ppb inorganic arsenic and a large majority (78 percent) was at or below 110 ppb inorganic arsenic.”

What it means?

Arsenic exists in two forms, organic and inorganic. Arsenic is an element of the Earth’s crust, therefore it is in water, air and soil naturally (organic).

In addition, fertilizers and pesticides are inorganic or an unnatural form of arsenic.

In the diet, inorganic arsenic is considered to be the more toxic of the two forms. Food and Drug Administration

What to do about it?

The good news is there are countless other foods available to infants for the essential nutritents babies need. At 8 months of age, most nutrition needs are fulfilled through breastmilk or formula.

The FDA tested 400 commonly eaten foods for levels of inorganic arsenic as a comparison. All the non-rice foods were found to be well below 100 ppb inorganic arsenic meaning other low- arsenic options are available.

Foods to include in a baby’s well-balanced diet are:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Iron fortified infant cereals include oat, barley and multigrain.
  • For toddlers a variety of grains such as whole wheat crackers/breads/pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, and iron fortified cereals

Rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic than other foods, in part because as rice plants grow, the plant and grain tend to absorb arsenic from the environment more than other crops.

Michigan State University Extension provides nutrition and health classes in communities and cares deeply about sharing knowledge and information with consumers. To contact an expert in your area, visit people.msue.msu.edu or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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