Arsenic in Rice: New Report Finds 'Worrisome Levels'


Although no products were named in the report, Nestle, the parent company of Gerber, said in an unsolicited statement to ABC News "all Gerber products are safe to consume, including Gerber rice cereal and Gerber SmartNourish organic brown rice cereal." They added that although they monitor arsenic levels, consumer concern led them to "exclusively use California rice in the production of our rice-containing infant nutrition products… because California rice has the lowest naturally occurring arsenic levels for rice grown in the United States."

The USA rice federation does not dispute the findings, but says the results are overblown since there is no documented evidence of actual illness linked to rice.

"These are very, very low levels," Dr James R. Coughlin, president and founder of Coughlin & Associates, an independent toxicology consulting company for the USA Rice Federation, said. "Rice is a safe and nutritious food and in fact people who consume rice more frequently in their diets are actually healthier than other Americans."

Rice contains more arsenic than other grains experts say, because it is grown while submerged in water. Arsenic does appear naturally in the earth, but Consumer Report says levels have been increased by use of arsenic-laced fertilizer.

Consumer Reports scientists explain that arsenic is fed to chickens, turkey, and pigs, and their manure is used as fertilizer for rice and other crops.

"All of those uses introduce arsenic into our environment, into our food supply, and we essentially are doing a lot of things to ourselves that deliberately introduce arsenic into food supply," Rangan said.

The National Chicken Council, however, released a statement following this morning's broadcast "strongly condemning these insinuations."

"Chickens in the United States produced for meat are not given arsenic as an additive in chicken feed," said Tom Super, NCC vice president of communications. "Some flocks used to be given feed that contained a product called Roxarsone, which included safe levels of organic arsenic. Even though the science shows that such low levels of arsenic do not harm chickens or the people eating them, this product was removed from the market last year, it is no longer manufactured and it is no longer used in raising chickens in the United States. No other products containing any amount of arsenic are used in chicken production."

In a response provided to ABC News, Consumer Reports said: "There are around 100 arsenic-containing drug formulations currently approved for use in healthy chickens to promote growth, improve pigmentation, and prevent disease, including Roxarsone, which Pfizer voluntarily and temporarily suspended sales of in July of 2011. There are also other arsenic containing drugs approved for use in food animal production including Nitrasone which is currently on Pfizer's website. If the Chicken industry's current stance is that arsenic containing drugs are not required to grow chickens for meat, then they should be more than willing to support our position on a complete ban on the use of arsenical drugs in poultry production."

This report follows a February Dartmouth report that found organic products containing brown rice syrup could have high arsenic levels.

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