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A Common Organic Sweetener May Boost Arsenic Levels in Foods

Study Shows Brown Rice Syrup Adds Arsenic to Many Natural, Organic Products
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Rice Products Are on FDA's Radar continued...

“We need to elevate the discussion about whether we do need regulations and guidelines for arsenic in food,” says researcher Brian P. Jackson, PhD, director of trace metal analysis at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. “And rice-based foods would be the first foods we should look at, I think.”

Rice growers disagree that their products should be singled out.

“U.S. rice and rice products are safe to consume,” says Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd, a spokesperson for the USA Rice Federation. “When discussing the content of arsenic in foods it is essential to distinguish between organic and inorganic arsenic,” she tells WebMD.

“Most of the arsenic found in rice is organic arsenic, the benign kind, and the U.S. rice industry is working with U.S. regulatory officials as they look into this issue,” she says.

“There has been no documented incident where ingestion of rice or rice products has led to human health problems, and the U.S. rice industry is committed to maintaining the safety of U.S. rice and rice products,” the statement says.

Arsenic in Foods Made With Brown Rice Syrup

For the study, which is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers analyzed arsenic levels in 17 different brands of formula made for infants and toddlers.

They also tested 29 energy bars, and three energy gels, portable sources of easily digested carbohydrates often used by endurance athletes.

And they checked three organic brown rice syrups, which are sold in the natural or organic sections of some supermarkets. Some people use rice syrup as an alternative to sugar or corn syrup in baked goods and beverages.

Products that didn’t list rice or rice syrups as top ingredients were all low in arsenic.

But the rice syrups themselves, and products that listed rice syrups or rice as one of the first five ingredients, all had high arsenic levels.

Most of the arsenic detected in the bars and energy gels was inorganic arsenic, the kind that’s believed to be the most toxic.

Still, that may not be so concerning, experts say, for foods that are eaten only occasionally. The body can typically clear a single small dose of arsenic in just a few days.

But for food staples, the danger increases.

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