If you buy infant formula or cereal or energy bars for your family, take the time to read the ingredient lists on these products. Dartmouth College researchers are reporting high levels of arsenic in formula or cereal/energy bars fortified with some rice products or sweetened with organic brown rice syrup.
That’s the syrup manufacturers have turned to as a replacement for high fructose corn syrup, which health-conscious consumers have increasingly shunned.
While the study did not list brand names, two of the 17 infant formulas that researchers tested had organic brown rice syrup listed as a primary ingredient, and those had arsenic levels 20 times greater than the other formulas. The two contained inorganic arsenic (the most toxic form) at 8.6 parts per billion (ppb) and 21.4 ppb respectively.
Of the 29 cereal bars tested, 22 listed rice products – including organic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice grain and rice flakes – among their first five ingredients. Those with no rice ingredients contained 8 to 27 ppb of arsenic, while those containing rice ingredients had levels of 23 to 128 ppb.
The United States currently has no regulatory limit for the amount of arsenic in food, but does limit the amount in drinking water to 10 ppb. Researchers point out that this limit does not account for the lower body weight or the delicate developmental stage of infants who might be consuming arsenic-laden formula.
Arsenic is a natural element found in soil and minerals. It has been used commercially to preserve wood, and in pesticides for crops such as cotton. Rice in the U.S. is often grown in fields formerly used to grow cotton, and the plants are especially efficient at taking up arsenic from the soil. This is true even of organically grown rice. And at high enough levels, arsenic exposure can cause death.
Until the government acts to regulate the amount of arsenic in food, parents can protect themselves and their families by avoiding infant formulas and baby foods in which organic brown rice syrup is the main ingredient. Also be on the lookout for organic brown rice syrup and other rice ingredients in baby foods, and in cereal and energy bars. An occasional cereal bar won’t pose much risk, but because food is the main source of arsenic exposure for most people, it’s important to remember that small exposures from a variety of foods could add up.
The Dartmouth study was published today in Environmental Health Perspectives, and reported in Consumer Reports.