There's good news today for parents who give their kids apple juice: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced new draft guidelines that call for no more than 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in apple juice - roughly the same level allowed in tap water.
Although some apple juices have tested high for arsenic, all 95 samples tested by the FDA already fell within the 10 ppb - reassurance that when it comes to arsenic levels, apple juice is safe.
"The most important message is we are confident in the safety of our juice supply," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.
Pressure to develop the guidelines stemmed from a 2011 report on the Dr. Oz Show and arsenic testing by Consumer Reports, both of which raised questions about the safety of apple juice.
In response, the FDA undertook additional testing and commissioned a risk assessment study to determine an arsenic limit based on the amount of juice a child might drink and the level of arsenic needed to cause health problems.
Although compliance with the guidelines is voluntary, Hamburg said they "expect industry to change what they do and use this new level for quality assurance."
Arsenic exists in our environment as a naturally occurring mineral and as a result of contamination from industrial activity and pesticides that used to be allowed in agriculture. In very high doses over a short period of time, the chemical can be deadly. At low doses over a long period of time, arsenic can increase the risk for lung and bladder cancer, cause skin disorders, developmental effects, diabetes, and problems with the heart and brain.
Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety for Consumer Reports, called the FDA move "a very important first step."
"It is a very important precedent," she said.
I broke the news to Dr. Mehmet Oz, who raised the initial concerns about apple juice.
"I am thrilled," he said. "It shows the system works. I applaud them for creating a standard. This should give all the moms a lot of confidence that when we put our minds to it this we can make the world a better place."
But while apple juice may be safe in terms of arsenic, this should not be a green light to drink endless quantities. There is increasing concern about the amount of sugar children and others consume from fruit juices and links between fructose, the sugar found in fruit juices, and obesity. Ounce for ounce, there is just as much sugar in apple juice as there is in soda. The American Academy of Pediatrics in a statement reminded parents that "it is not necessary to offer children any juice to have a well-balanced, healthy diet."
My advice: a small glass of juice a day is fine, after that reach for the water.