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Thursday
Feb162012

Arsenic Found in Organic Foods Sweetened with Brown Rice

Zoonar/ThinkstockUPDATE: The toddler formulas that are implicated in Thursday's study have been identified as Baby’s Only Organic Dairy Toddler Formula and Baby’s Only Organic Soy Toddler Formula.  Both are made by Nature's One.

[ CLICK HERE TO READ THE COMPANY'S RESPONSE ]

(HANOVER, N.H.) -- If you're shopping organic and see brown rice syrup listed first among ingredients, you may want to think twice. That product could have high levels of potentially toxic arsenic, Dartmouth researchers reported on Thursday.

A team led by environmental chemist Brian P. Jackson found what Jackson called "dangerous" amounts of arsenic in organic powdered toddler formula whose top ingredient was brown rice syrup.  That formula contained six times more arsenic than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for the water supply.

Jackson and his colleagues also reported elevated arsenic levels in some brown rice-sweetened cereal bars, energy bars and energy "shots" consumed by endurance athletes, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The results, which do not identify any products by name, follow recent reports about trace levels of arsenic in apple juice and previous reports of arsenic in rice.

Given that organic brown rice syrup, "may introduce significant concentrations of arsenic to an individual's diet," the researchers saw "an urgent need for regulatory limits on arsenic in food."  Dietary sources of arsenic represent "potentially a big public health issue that has not been taken on board," Jackson told ABC News.

The Food and Drug Administration has been sampling and testing a variety of "more conventional" rice products, including rice crackers and rice cereals, "to evaluate what the risk is and what the levels are in these products" said Siobhan DeLancey, a spokeswoman for the agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Depending on what the testing reveals, she said there was "a possibility" that the agency would set a threshold for arsenic levels in rice.  The FDA previously set a "level of concern" of 23 parts per billion of arsenic for fruit juices, the only other food to have such a designated level.  The EPA standard for arsenic in drinking water is 10 ppb.

"The bottom line is this shows there's a need for FDA to figure out some limits on this and put that out there," said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C.  She said FDA needs to take a broader approach toward arsenic in what we eat, rather than going "food by food."

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