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The FDA finally starts to address baby rice's arsenic problem: reduces amount of brain-damaging ingredient, but won't ban it


(NaturalNews) For the first time, the FDA is proposing to take action on widespread contamination of infant rice cereals with arsenic, according to draft rules released for public comment on April 1. But critics charge that the rules – which would leave arsenic levels in nearly all products unchanged – do not go far enough.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical element that is lethal in high quantities (and has historically been used as a poison for both humans and animals). In lower concentrations, particularly in its inorganic form, it has been implicated as a carcinogen. Research reviewed by the FDA also shows that inorganic arsenic can cause decreased cognitive ability and learning performance among children, and that exposure during pregnancy can lead to worse pregnancy outcomes.

Toxic pesticide legacy

Although arsenic can be found in trace amounts in many foods, it is found in the highest quantities in rice. That is because rice is one of the few crops grown in standing water, allowing arsenic to be taken up directly into the roots and from there into the seeds of the plant.

And why is arsenic in the water in the first place? Although small amounts of arsenic do naturally migrate into soil due to erosive practices, the vast majority of arsenic in soil was placed there by human beings. Until they were banned in 1985, arsenic-based insecticides were in widespread use in the United States. Decades later, these soils remain contaminated with the poison – particularly in the South, where many cotton fields have been shifted over to rice production.

Even today, arsenic continues to be used in chicken feed (and, therefore, in fertilizer made from poultry waste).

All of this translates to high levels of arsenic in many rice cereals – which are one of the most popular infant foods in the United States.

Rules wouldn't really protect consumers and children

The FDA's proposed rule would limit the inorganic arsenic content of infant rice cereal to 100 parts per billion (ppb). According to tests conducted by the agency, nearly 50 percent of cereals on the market already meet this standard. In fact, more than 75 percent have levels at or below 110 ppb.

That's right – the "new" rules would barely change the arsenic content of infant cereals.

An FDA spokesperson lauded the rules as "prudent" and "achievable."

Although the new guidelines are also supposed to address pregnant women, they have little to say other than that these women should eat a "variety" of grains, not just rice. The agency has not advised anyone else to change their rice consumption patterns, although nearly all rice on the market contains arsenic.

"While Consumer Reports is pleased to see that the FDA has finally proposed a limit on arsenic in infant rice cereal ... we remain concerned that so many other rice-based products consumed by children and adults remain without any standards at all. This is particularly true of children's ready-to-eat cereals," said Urvashi Rangan of the Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center.

Although the 100 ppb standard seems to parallel guidelines by the European Commission (EC), such a comparison is actually deceptive. That's because the EC's guidelines are actually for the content of rice itself – not for products made from it, which typically lose some arsenic during processing.

Indeed, studies have shown that arsenic acts as an endocrine disruptor at levels as low as 10 ppb, far below the levels that cause cell toxicity. Arsenic blocks the action of glucocorticoid, a hormone involved in processes including glucose regulation, protein metabolism and growth. Glucocorticoid dysfunction has been linked with inappropriate weight gain or loss, immunosuppression, diabetes, osteoporosis, blood pressure dysfunction and growth retardation.

Glucocorticoids also suppress tumor growth.

Don't want to wait for the FDA? You can limit your arsenic intake by minimizing your rice intake, by choosing low-arsenic varities, and by cooking your rice in excess water. Learn more at ConsumerReports.org

And in the meantime, be sure to check out FoodForensics.com

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