By Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff
Last week’s findings of arsenic in organic brown rice syrup may be even more frightening to parents than last year’s discovery of the cancer-causing substance in apple juice. That’s because organic brown rice syrup is ubiquitous in natural products—it’s used as a substitute for high fructose corn syrup.
The most recent study, from researchers at Dartmouth, found concentrations of arsenic of 23 to 128 parts per billion (ppb)—12 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking water limit of 10 ppb—in some cereal bars containing rice. (The EPA has not set safety levels for arsenic in food.)
High levels—as much as 20 times the EPA’s water safety level—were found in two organic infant formulas that contained organic brown rice syrup, leading Dr. Richard Besser, ABC’s Chief Health and Medical Editor, to recommend parents avoid formulas that contain the substance.
Where is the arsenic coming from? According to Environmental Health Perspectives, the arsenic is traced to residual pesticides, especially in areas of the southern United States where 1.6% of the world’s rice is grown. Rice grown in these areas contain 1.76 times more arsenic than rice grown in California, for example.
We checked in with our team for advice on takeaways from the study; our advisors recommended that parents be aware, but not unnecessarily alarmed.
“This new study underlines the need for the FDA to set safety levels for arsenic in food and beverages,” says Dr. Alan Greene, author of the “Raising Baby Green” book series, founder of the White-Out movement, and a Healthy Child Board Member. “For now, I recommend that rice not be the primary source of calories for babies, and that whatever rice they do get comes primarily from California and/or is tested for arsenic. Avoid conventional rice from countries still using arsenical pesticides. And, of course, I will welcome safety limits for arsenic in food and beverages that take the health of babies and pregnant women into account.”
At press time, two organic baby formula manufacturers released statements. Earth’s Best wrote that their formulas “do not contain brown rice syrup.” Nature’s One said that they depend on a “qualified, world renowned, third-party, independent lab to test arsenic levels in their organic brown rice syrup. Their testing results report undetectable amounts of arsenic at laboratory testing limits.”
Finally, because arsenic is present in our water supply in varying amounts, especially if you are using powdered formula mixed with water to meet your infant’s nutritional needs, you may want to check levels in your area. The Environmental Working Group provides a valuable resource to not only check the levels in your area, but also to find out which water filters can remove arsenic.