Study Finds Arsenic in Organic Infant Formula and Cereal Bars

Foods made with organic brown rice syrup, including infant formulas and cereal bars, may contain particularly high levels of inorganic arsenic, a new study finds.

Chronic exposure to even low levels of inorganic arsenic has been linked to increased risk of cancer,  Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, MyHealthNewsDaily reports.

Brown rice syrup is often included in organic products as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup.

This study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that some cereal bars made with brown rice syrup “have concentrations of arsenic that are 12 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking water limit of 10 parts per billion,” MyHealthNewsDaily reports. There are currently no U.S. regulations on the amount of arsenic allowed in food.

Lead researcher Brian Jackson of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire says his team analyzed the arsenic in 17 infant formulas, 29 cereal bars and three energy “shot” products, all of which contain organic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice flakes, or grains of rice. Previous research found that rice is a major source of arsenic in the diet.

The arsenic content of baby formulas made with organic brown rice syrup is especially worrisome, Jackson says.

From MyHealthNewsDaily:

Recent research suggests arsenic exposure early in life may increase the risk for health problems later on. Formula may be a baby’s sole food over a critical period of development, and their small size means they may consume more arsenic per kilogram of body weight than an adult eating foods with similar arsenic levels, the researchers said.

It’s hard to say what effect arsenic in foods may have on adults, Jackson said. If guidelines are set for acceptable levels of arsenic in food, they may be higher than most of the levels found in this study, around 200 ppb, Jackson said.

“I don’t think eating the occasional cereal bar has any real risk to it,” Jackson said. For those concerned about arsenic exposure, Jackson recommends making sure meals are not rice-based. For parents, Jackson said to avoid infant formulas that contain rice syrup.


Image: Infant formula via Shutterstock.

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  1. by Jill Cordes

    On February 16, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    Hey Holly–any idea on what brand we should be wary of?

  2. by Erin O'Donnell

    On February 16, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Hi Jill,
    Erin here. The scientists didn’t list brands of the products they tested. But they did provide some clues in the case of baby formula. They said there are only two formulas currently on the market that include organic brown rice syrup. I would read labels!

  3. by Heidi

    On February 16, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Wow, that is simply horrifying! I’m grateful that I was able to breastfeed my children, but I think that all paretns need to pressure infant formula companies to do a MUCH better job of producing a safe, wholesome product. There are far too many cases of contaminants in formula or terrible mistakes in its composition. Consumers must demand a better product to save baby’s lives and health.

  4. by Leslie

    On February 17, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Does anyone know if syrup is the key word here? This isn’t brown rice itself, right?

  5. by Skeptical

    On February 20, 2012 at 11:19 am

    I have to wonder if high fructose corn syrup producers are behind this research? Our bodies have the ability to process naturally occuring aresenic. Oddly, we have absolutely no way to break down hydrogenated oils (trans fat) and yet these ingredients are still in numerous products. The fact that the FDA allows 0.4999g of trans fat to be in a product and label it as 0 grams of trans fat is an issue. It takes only 2.5g per day to be considered a dangerous level. That means 5 servings per day of various 0 grams of trans fat items will lead to a dangerous level. I’m not saying this rice syrup info isn’t true, but it is a big finger pointing game in “big food.” Don’t beat yourselves up mommies. You are doing the best you can and whatever you do, your children will tell you was wrong because all of the research will have flipped in 20 years by the time they are parents.

  6. [...] research, during which time Gerber voluntarily recalled some formula because of a strange odor, and some brands of organic formula were found to contain high levels of inorganic arsenic.  More on the FDA’s new rules from The Associated Press: Most formula makers already abide [...]

  7. [...] In the wake of multiple recalls of infant formula in recent years, the federal government has finalized standards that will require manufacturers to test their products for nutritional content as well as possible exposure to germs and bacteria.  Earlier this year the new guidelines were announced; they are based on two years’ worth of research, during which time Gerber voluntarily recalled some formula because of a strange odor, and some brands of organic formula were found to contain high levels of inorganic arsenic. [...]