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.
"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