Rice-sweetened baby formula may contain arsenic: U.S study

Thu Feb 16, 2012 6:00pm EST

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(Reuters) - A sampling of products sweetened with organic brown rice syrup, including cereal bars and baby formulas, found levels of arsenic that exceeded U.S. standards for bottled water, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

The study by researchers at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire followed a Consumer Reports analysis of arsenic levels in some fruit juices last year. The previous study showed some juice samples exceeded federal limits on arsenic in place for drinking water, prompting concern from consumer groups and U.S. lawmakers.

Organic brown rice syrup is used as a sweetener in some food products as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup, researchers said, and rice can be a major source of inorganic arsenic.

For the latest study, the team tested 17 baby formulas, 29 cereal bars and three energy shots that were purchased in the Hanover, New Hampshire area.

Of the two formulas that listed organic brown rice syrup as the main ingredient, one had a total arsenic concentration that was six times the federal limit for bottled water, which is 10 parts per billion, the team reported in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

"I don't think there's much risk associated with eating a cereal bar every couple of days," Brian Jackson, the lead researcher, told Reuters. "But it is a source of arsenic that we may not be considering."

For babies and toddlers, Jackson said it would be best to avoid formulas that use organic brown rice syrup as a sweetener until arsenic levels in such products are regulated.

Arsenic is toxic at high doses, and chronic exposures can damage the liver, skin, kidney and cardiovascular system. Babies are especially vulnerable because of their size, the team said.

A Web-based search found that only the two formulas studied contained organic brown rice syrup, so the number of infants exposed is "presumably a very low percentage of U.S. formula-fed infants," the team wrote. The researchers did not identify the brands of the products that were tested.

The researchers studied 29 cereal bars and high energy bars and found 22 listed rice-based ingredients -- including organic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice grain or rice flakes - among the top five ingredients.

Tests of these bars showed they had higher arsenic concentrations than comparable food products without the rice-based sweetener.

The team said arsenic and arsenic metabolites can become absorbed in rice through natural microbes and traces of pesticides in the soil.

Since there are no U.S. regulations governing arsenic in food, the team said the findings showed there was an "urgent need" for regulation.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it recognized there were trace amounts of arsenic in many foods. The agency has expanded its surveillance of rice, including a study initiated last year to determine the level and type of arsenic found in rice and rice products. That study is expected to be completed in the coming months.

A statement from the Organic Trade Association said it agreed with calls to regulate limits on arsenic across the food supply. It said any rice product destined for baby food should come from regions known to have arsenic-free soils.

(Reporting By Lauren Keiper; Editing by Daniel Trotta and David Storey)

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Comments (3)
mda1125 wrote:
This after Rich Gaspari announces he’s going with brown rice syrup as the main ingredient in his protein products. Not because it’s superior, because it’s cheaper than whey. Wonder how they will respond to high levels of arsenic?

Feb 16, 2012 1:19pm EST  --  Report as abuse
newthangs2 wrote:
I have been tested and found to have high levels of arsenic. I tested my well water and it is fine. I am not being exposed via any work related or other envornmental exposure. Why is our food supply not being heavily monitored, especially after the Chinese melamine incident. I am suffering health issues due to poisons and gluten and I am buying mostly organic food. Our country is unsafe for everyone. The food supplies are already so adulterated. The sores are crammed full of food from Mexico. I do not buy mexican produce and I buy as little processed food as I can. I want my government to monitor and control our food sources and industries. There does not need to be gluten in so much of our food. There does not need to be capsicums(peppers) in so much of our food.I will comment for the nut allergic people. Stop the cross contamination. And now stop the pesticides and heavy metals contaminations.

Feb 18, 2012 2:44pm EST  --  Report as abuse
NYmanager wrote:
This is distressing news, to be sure–but it looks like there’s even more arsenic in chicken, and it’s fed to them intentionally: http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/arsenic-in-chicken/

Feb 19, 2012 8:59am EST  --  Report as abuse
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