by Marion Nestle
Sep 16 2013

Arsenic in rice: another food issue to worry about?

Is arsenic in rice something you should be worried about?

I never know what to say about food contaminants consumed in tiny amounts, in this case, micrograms (millionths of grams) per serving.

The FDA devotes a web page to arsenic in rice.  Here, the agency releases the results of its testing, which found amounts of arsenic mostly below 6 micrograms per serving.

Higher levels—11 micrograms per serving—were found in three samples from Texas, Louisiana and California.  The highest was 30 micrograms per serving of hot ready-to-eat rice bran cereal.

Is this good, bad, or indifferent?  And how would we know?

The FDA says such levels are too low to cause concern about short-term health problems.

But Consumers Union thinks the real issue is the long-term effects.

Today’s widely-reported message on arsenic levels in rice misses the point.  The issue is not the short-term risks of rice consumption. The concern is the long-term effects from exposure to arsenic in rice. As Consumer Reports has said in the past, consumers should not ignore the potential risks from consuming rice and rice products over a long period of time…Consumers are not well-served if they do not have the full story. The concerns about long-term effects are significant and warrant the FDA’s decision to investigate further.

The FDA says it plans further investigations.  In the meantime, it says you should:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Vary your grains.
  • Consider diversifying infant foods

This is always good advice.

But Consumers Union  is more specific.  It suggests you worry a little and observe these limits:

New Picture (4)

At the moment, this is the best information available.  FDA: get to work!

FDA references:

  • Ned Hamson

    2-3 billion people now have rice 2-3 times a day and hundreds and hundreds of millions of people have been subsisting on rice for several thousands of years. If there were long term effects, then there would be higher numbers of whatever among those populations that have used rice the longest. Think Consumer Reports is over-reacting.

  • Erin N Smith

    Rice isn’t the only place where arsenic is found. This uptodate summary describes drinking water in the US as often having 2 micrograms/Liter and sometimes up to 20. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/arsenic-exposure-and-poisoning with people consuming 20 mcg normally a day.

    No limits on drinking water or other foods, though? Maybe the recommendations for rice consumption are overblown. The specific recommendations seem like they should have more justification to be so strict.

  • excentric

    I wonder about this, too. There was a program about toothpaste where they interviewed a dentist who said that the amount of flouride in a pea-size blob of toothpaste is not enough to harm a child if they swallow it. But a pea-sized blob several times a week or more was not addressed. Cumulative harm seems to be ignored in a lot of the ‘science’ supposedly proving the lack of harm if our food and products.

  • excentric

    I think there hasn’t been arsenic in rice for thousands of years. It is a recent development caused by fertilizers and run-off. Your argument is invalid.

  • Ned Hamson

    Think or know. Arsenic is found in nature. Used to be commonly found in well water and had nothing to do with fertilizers or run off. But I’ll check so we will both know.

  • Ned Hamson

    Arsenic in Ground Water of the United States: Occurrence and Geochemistry: /http://www.foodpolitics.com/2013/09/arsenic-in-rice-another-food-issue-to-worry-about/#comment-1047080584

    For US, we are both right: natural sources main source in some areas, human intervention bug cause in a number of areas. Have to assume story would be pretty much the same where similar geographies occur. Thanks,

  • George

    I believe the higher level of arsenic in some US soils is a legacy of its use on cotton crops in the days of King Cotton.
    Arsenic is both a herbicide and insecticide.

  • Ned Hamson

    Could well be

  • http://www.nutritionprescription.biz/ Michele Jacobson

    According to my research, the simple act of rinsing your rice prior to cooking – not once or twice, but three or four times – can reduce the arsenic content up to 30%! Americans have been trained NOT to do this because companies have long been spraying on vitamins (aka “enriched” rice), and rinsing rice would wash these vitamins down the drain.
    Buy brown rice, with the vitamins and minerals intact, and rinse prior to cooking to reduce the arsenic content.

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  • excentric

    We did a lot of damage to ourselves and the environment before we understood the dangers, but now that we do, we keep on doing the damage anyway. It’s a puzzlement.

  • Ned Hamson

    We continue to think we are above or not part of nature and that technology will always “save” us. Profit for profits’ sake does not help any either.

  • excentric

    I agree. I think greed is in the process of being our downfall. Nothing matters but the bottom line. Quality, integrity…they’ve become irrelevant. Those who have feel no obligation towards those who don’t, and choose to exploit those who do the actual work. Sad commentary on our times.

  • Ned Hamson

    Too many believe they can buy their way out of any calamity their actions might cause or contribute to – either that or they simply split their mind and the Monsanto GMO dabbler does not think about potential damage s/he might do to world crops.

  • excentric

    S/he can only see dollar signs, not devastation. I say this way too often, but god, my species is stupid. Seriously.

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  • Andrea

    Agreed! A simple rice rinsing colander (with smaller holes so that rice grains don’t fall through) is easy to pick up on Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Rice-Washing-Bowl-Bottom-Drainers/dp/B002641GCY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379968288&sr=8-1&keywords=rinse+rice) or at an Asian grocery store. Also, Haiga rice is a reasonable compromise for people who don’t like brown rice because it’s only half-milled so you still get more nutrients out of the remaining rice germ.

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  • http://www.creationbasedhealth.com/ Jared White

    This is great Michele! Also, did you know that boiling rice can remove even more of the arsenic content?

  • http://www.nutritionprescription.biz/ Michele Jacobson

    Thank you, Jared. I haven’t heard that about the boiling. Conventional wisdom tells me what’s in the water would get absorbed back into the rice. Thoughts anyone?

  • http://www.creationbasedhealth.com/ Jared White

    Hi Michelle, there are actually a couple of preliminary studies that boiling in ample water reduces arsenic content (which I link to in my post: http://creationbasedhealth.com/how-to-boil-rice or you can search for the study entitled “Cooking rice in a high water to rice ratio reduces inorganic arsenic content.” As far as how it works, my guess is that heat helps release the arsenic, while ample water gives it space to dissolve into. By contrast, cooking with a rice cooker/evaporative method even more arsenic is concentrated into the rice because the cooking water evaporates leaving even more arsenic behind.

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