- Copyright © 2012, The American Academy of Pediatrics
Following a Consumer Reports investigation released today on the levels of arsenic it found in many rice products, the Academy is reminding pediatricians and families that additional research is needed before recommendations can be made on the possible risks involved in consuming these food products, including baby cereal.
Consumer Reports found measurable amounts of the two forms of arsenic — inorganic and organic — in 223 samples of rice products such as cereals, crackers and brown and white rice, in both organic and conventional products as well as in gluten-free items. The data is published in the magazine’s November issue.
Inorganic arsenic increases risks for bladder, lung and skin cancer, though organic arsenic is less toxic. While there is no federal limit for arsenic in most foods (typically measured in micrograms per serving), the standard for drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb) and 23 ppb in fruit juice.
Consumer Reports’ findings show arsenic is present in quantities that might increase an individual’s lifetime risk of cancer when children consume typical amounts of rice products.
“It’s important to emphasize that there’s no evidence of harm from arsenic that is naturally present in food, and we don’t know what the levels mean for the consumer. Almost all foods tested contain some arsenic,” said Frank Greer, M.D., FAAP, past chair of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which also released preliminary results of its own testing of rice products, is not recommending consumers change their consumption of rice and rice products at this time, but that people eat a balanced diet containing a wide variety of grains. A more comprehensive report from the FDA is expected to be out by the end of the year and will use a larger sample, covering a wide variety of rice types, geographical regions where rice is grown and the wide range of foods that contain rice as an ingredient.
Meanwhile, while additional research, including the results of the ongoing FDA study, will be needed to provide detailed recommendations, the Academy stated that “at the individual level, offering children a variety of foods, including products made from oats and wheat, will decrease children’s exposure to arsenic derived from rice.”
For a baby’s first food, rice cereal is not as nutritious as other food options and only became popular in the past 30 to 35 years because it was thought to be the least allergenic of the cereals, Dr. Greer noted. Other options for a first weaning food include red meat, which Dr. Greer said contains the iron and zinc that breastfeeding babies in particular are lacking after six months of breastfeeding. The Academy does not recommend rice milk for infants. The Academy said there is no medical evidence at the present time that introducing solid foods in any particular order has any advantage for infants. No matter what food is introduced first, give infants one new food at a time and wait two to three days before starting another.
Parents who wish to take a more cautious approach on serving rice products can cut down on these items and reduce the serving sizes in their family’s diet by substituting other foods. Some suggestions are found in the Consumer Reports article at www.consumerreports.org/cro/index.htm.
For resources, visit the AAP webpage at www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Arsenic-in-Food-Products.aspx.