Concerns over arsenic in baby rice


Not only is rice in short supply these days but, according to research by Professor Andrew Meharg and his colleagues at the University of Aberdeen, what there is could be heavily polluted with arsenic. For families with wheat or dairy sensitivities this could be of major concern as rice-based baby food and rice milk are common substitutes for wheat and dairy products.

Professor Meharg and his researchers tested three brands of pure baby rice formula. Inorganic arsenic levels ranged from 0.06 to 0.16mg per kg, thus exceeding the maximum allowed in China of 0.15 mg per kg.

A level of 1 mg/kg is often cited as being a safe level for arsenic in rice but this standard was set four decades ago before inorganic arsenic's chronic carcinogenicity was internationally recognised.

Moreover young children are thought to be particularly susceptible to the health risks from arsenic and other heavy metals because of their lower bodyweight. Research also suggests that excess exposure during critical periods of a child's development could be of particular concern.

Three servings per day of rice containing the highest levels of arsenic would amount to six times more than the maximum permitted for drinking water under EU and US laws.

In the most extreme cases, a child could eat other rice-based products on top of this in the form of crackers, biscuits, puffed cereals, and puddings.

The researchers also tested different brands of rice milk (both organic and non-organic) and ‘home-made' rice milk, from rice from around the world.

Four brands of commercial rice milk exceeded the EU total arsenic standard of 10 µg l-1 – while 80% of the samples failed to meet the US standard of 10 µg l-1 inorganic arsenic; the 'home-made' rice milks met all US standards and only one failed to meet EU standards.

Ref: Environmental Pollution doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2008.03.015
Meharg et al, J. Environ. Monit., 2008, DOI: 10.1039/b800981c


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First published July 2008

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