Arsenic and Apple Juice: New Testing Finds Low Levels

PHOTO: Additional FDA testing on apple juice samples found low levels of arsenic in the juice.PlayJupiterimages/Getty Images
WATCH Dr. Oz vs. Dr. Besser: Agreement on Apple Juice?

After an intense public debate in September over whether apple juice contained unsafe levels of arsenic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released new data after additional juice testing and found that most of the samples contained low levels of the heavy metal.

About 95 percent of the 160 juice samples the agency collected between 2005 and 2011 had total arsenic levels below 23 ppb (parts per billion), which the FDA considers at its "level of concern," and nearly 88 percent had levels less than 10 ppb.

But there were eight samples -- mostly from the U.S. -- that contained high levels of arsenic. These results, however, were not reported in September when the agency released initial findings after TV's Dr. Oz claimed apple juice had high levels of of the toxic metal. The FDA said at the the time, they were waiting to confirm the levels in these samples.

"I'm pleased to see the FDA is taking this seriously," said ABC News' chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. "I wish they had been more forthcoming with their findings in September. Clearly there needs to be more testing. Their sampling so far indicates the problem is as great or greater with apple juice produced in the United States. Thankfully, the number of samples with elevated levels is small, still less than 5 percent."

The FDA also said the arsenic they found was mostly inorganic, although they initially said in September that the arsenic in the juice samples was mostly organic. Inorganic arsenic is the form of the metal that can be toxic to humans.

The agency also announced it increased its monitoring of arsenic levels in apple juice and continues to collect samples for analysis. In addition, the FDA said it's working on establishing guidance for manufacturers, meaning it will declare what level of arsenic is considered safe.

The FDA made this announcement in a letter to two consumer advocacy groups -- Empire State Consumer Project and Food & Water Watch, which both urged the FDA to take action after testing it commissioned found levels of arsenic in apple juice samples to be five times higher than what's allowed in drinking water.

"It's a good step, and we're encouraged they're putting out these data," said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch. "I'm not fully reassured they're setting up a guidance level, and I want to see them making more progress toward that."

Research by Dr. Oz and his team found similarly high levels of arsenic in a number of juice samples, and after he took his findings to the air, the FDA and other scientists criticized him for "irresponsible" claims. He later went head-to-head with Besser on "Good Morning America" and said he believes s it's safe to drink apple juice now, but has concerns over the long run.

Despite his concern over the FDA's release of data, Besser said he still believes apple juice is safe to drink.

"As a pediatrician, I recommend that children not drink more than one or two cups of any fruit juice per day," he said. "As long as parents keep to this level of consumption, the current level of contamination should not pose a health risk."