Arsenic in Rice: New Report Finds 'Worrisome Levels'

Rice eaten just once a day can drive arsenic levels up 44 percent.

ByABC News
September 19, 2012, 1:04 AM

Sept. 19, 2012— -- A major consumer magazine is warning Americans to limit how much rice they eat because of concerns over arsenic and the FDA is investigating the matter.

According to a sobering report released to "Good Morning America" by Consumer Reports magazine this morning, rice eaten just once a day can drive arsenic levels in the human body up 44 percent. Rice eaten twice a day can lead to a 70 percent increase in arsenic.

"So far our results…we actually have about the same number of samples in (and) these two data sets are fairly similar," FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg -- referring to the testing of arsenic levels in products conducted by Consumer Reports and similar tests conducted by the FDA --- said in an interview with ABC News today. But added that "based on the available data and the scientific literature" they see no immediate health threat.

"We are not recommending that consumers need to change their consumption of rice products in dramatic ways," Hamburg said. "We think the best advice is a balanced diet (and) it's good nutrition. There are lots of varieties of grains and other products that should be part of a balanced diet."

Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports, however went farther saying "we think that consumers ought to take steps to moderate their consumption."

Consumer Reports tested many forms of rice for arsenic, from cereal for babies and adults, to brown and white whole grain, pasta and drinks. More than 60 rice and rice products were tested overall, including name brands.

Many contained what the magazine calls "worrisome levels of arsenic"— some products had up to five times higher levels than the arsenic found in oatmeal and one and a half times more than EPA's legal standard for drinking water.

The researchers also found geographical distinctions in arsenic levels, with white rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, containing higher levels than rice samples from other parts of the country. Those four states account for 76 percent of domestic rice produced.

Inorganic arsenic is considered a level one carcinogen, linked to lung and bladder cancer. Today, the FDA will announce it has concerns about rice and arsenic and is studying the issue, but in the meantime recommends a varied diet. Consumer Reports calls for more.

"Foods really shouldn't be any different and as we look at the levels we're finding in these products there needs to be a standard set for these foods already," Rangan said. "We called for that on apple juice in January, we're calling for that again in rice products today" referring to a January investigation of data released by the FDA of arsenic levels in apple and grape juice.

Surprisingly, when it comes to arsenic the less nutritional white rice is better than brown. The carcinogen is most prevalent in the outer layers of the grain and white rice is polished removing some of those layers.

Consumer Reports suggests rice eaters limit themselves to one serving a day, especially for babies. Rinsing and then boiling rice in a 6 to 1 water ratio removes about 30 percent of its arsenic. They also caution that children under the age of 5 should not be given rice drinks as part of their daily diet.

"We're not saying never do that," Michael Hansen, senior scientist on the Consumer Reports study said. "We're saying it should be very infrequent."