A Consumer Reports investigation last week shined a disparaging light on a food that we’ve long thought healthy. Consumer Reports’ tested 32 rices and dozens of rice products, nearly 200 samples in all and found that all contained arsenic. But the frightening part is that many contained high levels of inorganic arsenic, the form which the body directly absorbs and is therefore the most toxic. It's a known human carcinogen linked to skin, lung, and bladder cancer.
The R.I.C.E. Act
Law makers have quickly responded, according to a story on Food Safety News, by introducing a bill that would limit levels of arsenic in rice and foods containing rice. Rep. Rosa De Lauro (D-CT), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Nita Lowey (D-NY) have introduced the R.I.C.E. Act (Reducing Food-Based Inorganic and Organic Compounds Exposure Act), which requires the FDA to set acceptable limits on arsenic.
“The idea that high levels of arsenic, a known carcinogen, are present in rice, cereal and other common, everyday foods is absolutely outrageous,” said DeLauro on Food Safety News. “The federal government has an obligation to every American family to ensure that the food they consume is safe and should not make them sick. This is not the first time we have been alerted to the dangers of arsenic, and quite simply we must do more to ensure that our food supply is safe. This bill is a step in that direction.”
The FDA is currently taking a closer look at the issue, looking at 1,200 samples to check the validity of the investigation. According to Food Safety News, “[b]ased on the currently available data and scientific literature, the agency said it does not have an adequate scientific basis to recommend changes by consumers regarding their consumption of rice and rice products.”
Arsenic in the Food Supply
Arsenic ends up in our food supply because plants take it in through the soil just as they would any other soil component. Plants can’t differentiate between good and bad elements, so if it’s there, they take it in. Throughout the world you’ll also find a number of arsenic hot spots, where arsenic is more concentrated. This results from certain geologic formations in rock and soil and left over arsenic-containing pesticide residue.