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Monday, July 15th, 2013
The US Food & Drug Administration has announced it will limit the amount of inorganic arsenic allowed in apple juice drinks, proposing a limit that would be the same as is allowed in drinking water. The news comes after decades of debate, which flared in 2011 when Dr. Mehmet Oz released a widely publicized study finding higher-than-allowed amounts of total arsenic in popular brands of apple juice, including Gerber.
Oz’s research did not distinguish between “organic” and “inorganic” arsenic, which scientists liken to cholesterol, which has “good” and “bad” types that should be measured separately. At the time, Oz argued for the inorganic arsenic level to be lowered to the allowable drinking water level, which the new FDA announcement appears to do.
More on the new ruling from Reuters:
“This action level will keep any apple juice that may have more inorganic arsenic than that out of the marketplace,” Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in a blog post.
Last year the agency tested 94 samples of arsenic in apple juice and found that all were below the 10 ppb threshold for inorganic arsenic. The FDA is now setting that limit as the allowable future benchmark. It will accept public comments on its recommendations for 60 days.
Inorganic arsenic may be found in foods because it is present in the environment, both as a naturally occurring mineral and due to the use of arsenic-containing pesticides.
Inorganic arsenic has been associated with skin lesions, developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes. Organic forms of arsenic, also found in soil and ground water, are considered essentially harmless.
Some consumer groups said the limit on arsenic is a good first step, but the carcinogen needs to be limited further.
“The standard they’ve chosen may not be adequate to fully protect the public,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Image: Apple juice, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
Consumer Reports, the independent consumer watchdog group, has conducted analysis of a number of different rice products, finding that an array of them–including organic rice baby cereal, rice breakfast cereals, brown rice, and white rice–contain “worrisome” levels of the carcinogenic toxin arsenic. Arsenic is not regulated in food, though the government does have a standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for arsenic in drinking water. From Consumer Reports:
Arsenic not only is a potent human carcinogen but also can set up children for other health problems in later life.
Following our January investigation, “Arsenic in Your Juice,” which found arsenic in apple and grape juices, we recently tested more than 200 samples of a host of rice products. They included iconic labels and store brands, organic products and conventional ones; some were aimed at the booming gluten-free market.
The results of our tests were even more troubling in some ways than our findings for juice. In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern. Moreover, the foods we checked are popular staples, eaten by adults and children alike. See the chart summarizing results of our tests for arsenic in rice or rice products.
Though rice isn’t the only dietary source of arsenic—some vegetables, fruits, and even water can harbor it—the Environmental Protection Agency assumes there is actually no “safe” level of exposure to inorganic arsenic.
Click here for a brand-by-brand breakdown of the test results. And follow Consumer Reports’ recommendations for how to reduce your family’s exposure to arsenic found in rice:
Test your water. If your home is not on a public water system, have your water tested for arsenic and lead. To find a certified lab, contact your local health department or call the federal Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.
Change the way you cook rice. You may be able to cut your exposure to inorganic arsenic in rice by rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking, using a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice for cooking and draining the excess water afterward. That is a traditional method of cooking rice in Asia. The modern technique of cooking rice in water that is entirely absorbed by the grains has been promoted because it allows rice to retain more of its vitamins and other nutrients. But even though you may sacrifice some of rice’s nutritional value, research has shown that rinsing and using more water removes about 30 percent of the rice’s inorganic arsenic content.
Eat a varied diet. Some vegetables can accumulate arsenic when grown in contaminated soil. To help, clean vegetables thoroughly, especially potato skins. Some fruit juices such as apple and grape juice are high in arsenic, as our previous tests showed. To prevent obesity and tooth decay, pediatricians advise that infants younger than 6 months shouldn’t drink juice; children up to age 6 should have no more than 4 to 6 ounces a day and older children no more than 8 to 12 ounces. Like grape juice, wine also can be a source of exposure, according to data collected in the FDA’s Total Diet Study, which provides more complete information about arsenic content in a variety of foods. Go to fda.gov and search for “total diet study analytical results.”
Experiment with other grains. Vary your grains, especially if you eat more than two or three servings of rice per week. Though not arsenic-free, wheat and oats tend to have lower levels than rice. And quinoa, millet, and amaranth are among other options for those on a gluten-free diet, though they have not been studied as much.
Image: Rice, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
More than half of all low-cost jewelry on the market in the U.S.–including jewelry intended for children–contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals, a new study by the Michigan-based Ecology Center has found. The study found lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, bromine, and chlorine (PVC) in the jewelry they analyzed. These substances have been linked in animal and some human studies to acute allergies as well as long-term health impacts such as birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer.
“Toxic jewelry is a symptom of the complete failure of our federal chemical regulatory system,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center and founder of HealthyStuff.org, in a statement. ”Our children will never be safe until we reform our chemical laws to ensure products are safe before they arrive on store shelves.”
Visit HealthyStuff.org for a more detailed report on which chemicals were most often found in low-cost jewelry.
Image: Child’s bracelet, via Shutterstock.
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Thursday, February 16th, 2012
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.
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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Thursday, December 1st, 2011
A new study of apple and grape juices by Consumer Reports has found high levels of arsenic in some brands, The Today Show reported yesterday. The new findings follow a widely-discussed and controversial study released in September by Dr. Mehmet Oz, in which he accused apple juice makers of allowing higher levels of arsenic than are allowed by federal regulators.
Ten percent of the 88 juice samples tested by Consumer Reports were found to have detectable arsenic at levels higher than the 10 parts per billion (ppb) allowed by the Food & Drug Administration. Welch’s Pourable Concentrate 100% Apple Juice had the lowest arsenic level (1.1-4.3 total arsenic ppb), and America’s Choice Apple, Tropicana 100% Apple, and Red Jacket Orchards 100% Apple also had low levels.
The new study continues a debate over whether there is a difference in health risk between organic and inorganic arsenic compounds. Dr. Oz’s study had reported “total arsenic” counts, rather than distinguishing between the two types of compounds, as the FDA does. Inorganic arsenic is known to raise the risk that a person will develop cancer or other chronic health problems. But Consumer Reports says that there are questions about the safety or organic compounds as well, writing, “Use of organic arsenic in agricultural products has caused concern. For instance, the EPA in 2006 took steps to stop the use of herbicides containing organic arsenic because of their potential to turn into inorganic arsenic in the soil and contaminate drinking water.”
The FDA responded to the article with a statement saying the agency was considering changing or tightening its standard for allowable arsenic in juices:
“We welcome the research that Consumer Reports has undertaken and look forward to reviewing the data that formed the basis for their story and their recommendations,” the agency noted. “We continue to find the vast majority of apple juice tested to contain low levels of arsenic, including the most recent samples from China. For this reason, FDA is confident in the overall safety of apple juice consumed in this country. By the same token, a small percentage of samples contain elevated levels of arsenic. In response, FDA has expanded our surveillance activities and is collecting additional data”
Nutritionists urge parents to limit the amount of juice their children consume, not only because of contamination concerns, but because of the high calories contained in the drinks. Parents should offer their children water or milk to drink, and whole fruits as snacks.
Image: Apples and apple juice, via Shutterstock
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