This is the original post and see also for my three articles on the subject!
Thank you to those of you who pointed out the recent media story about arsenic being in rice milk. It seems the Food Standards Agency has issued a new guideline that babies and toddlers under four years old shouldn’t be given rice milk as it contains too much arsenic. Shocked, I have looked into it for you. First, a quick summary and then I have included the press release from the FSA, and finally a response from the makers of Rice Dream. Hope it helps.
My summary: It seems a lot of foods contain a natural level of arsenic and rice has an ability to store it slightly more from what I read. Most experts are saying there is no real danger as it is endemic in our environment and foods, but that because babies and toddlers tend to drink a lot of it per body weight, the possibility of having too much should be recognised. The best approach seems to be to not to have too much and to vary different milks around ie. not be too reliant on rice generally at that age. Another example of saying what’s wrong with something, but not really much help to those little ones who can’t drink cow’s milk (or soya)! Don’t forget too that the body is very efficient at getting rid of metals like this as it is a normal part of our environment. That said, it should be limited and we always need to ensure the right vitamins and minerals are in place to achieve the detox process in the body. It’s just a problem when a little one has to have a lot of it. Perhaps we need to think of alternatives such as oat and a little soya milk if little ones can’t have cow’s milk and are too young for nut milk, and always buy organic rice products.
From the FSA Press Release: The Agency has today published results from two studies: arsenic levels in rice drinks and one on cooking methods to reduce arsenic levels in rice. As a result of the rice drink study, the Agency recommends that toddlers and young children should not have rice drinks, often known as rice milk, as a replacement for cows’ milk, breast milk or infant formula.The rice drink study followed concerns about results from a study published last year that measured arsenic levels in these types of drinks. The research published today examined 60 samples of rice drinks and found low levels of arsenic in all of them (see The science behind the story section below).
The level of total arsenic ranged from 0.010 – 0.034 milligram/kilogram and the levels of inorganic – the more harmful – form of arsenic ranged from 0.005 – 0.020 milligram/kilogram. The proportion of inorganic arsenic in the rice drink samples ranged from 48 – 63%. None of the results were over the current legal limit (but see the Current regulations section below).
In the second study, researchers looked at the effect of cooking methods on arsenic content of rice. The Agency is not advising anyone to change the way they cook rice as a result of this study as the impact on the overall dietary intake of arsenic from different cooking methods is minimal.
What the Agency advises
As a precaution, toddlers and young children between 1 and 4.5 years old should not have rice drinks as a replacement for cows’ milk, breast milk, or infant formula. This is because they will then drink a relatively large amount of it, and their intake of arsenic will be greater than that of older children and adults relative to their bodyweight. This is both on nutritional grounds and because such substitution can increase their intake of inorganic arsenic, which should be kept as low as possible. A daily half pint or 280 millilitres of rice drink could double the amount of the more harmful form of arsenic they consume each day.
There is no immediate risk to children who have been consuming rice drinks and it is unlikely that there would have been any long-term harmful effects but to reduce further exposure to arsenic parents should stop giving these drinks to toddlers and young children. If your child is allergic to cows’ milk, you are strongly advised to seek advice from your health professional or dietitian on suitable replacements. Other groups of people do not need to change their diet because their exposure to inorganic arsenic from rice drinks is lower relative to their bodyweight. Children under a year old should drink breast milk or infant formula milk. Cows’ milk or alternatives are not suitable as a drink until an infant is 12 months old.
The research published today does not affect the Agency’s advice on any other weaning foods. Advice from a survey in 2007, which included baby rice and other rice products, concluded that these foods did not have levels of inorganic arsenic that caused concern.
For further information on this survey, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The science behind the story
Arsenic is widely distributed in the environment. It occurs in soil, water – both sea and fresh – and in almost all plants and animal tissues. As a result, arsenic occurs naturally at very low levels in many foods and it is not possible to avoid it completely. How harmful the arsenic is depends on the chemical form in which it is present. The organic form is less harmful than the inorganic form which can cause cancer by harming our genetic material (DNA). Rice and rice products have higher levels of the inorganic form of arsenic compared with other food. The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) (an independent scientific committee that provides advice to the Food Standards Agency) has concluded that people should consume as little of this form of arsenic as reasonably practicable.
Survey of metals in weaning foods and formulae for infants Read the Food Survey Information Sheet
Survey of total and inorganic arsenic in rice drinks Food Survey Information Sheet 02/09
See more background at http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/fsis0209arsenicinrice.pdf
Rice Dream response:
“All Rice Dream and Lima products are significantly below the legal maximum limit for levels of arsenic in food products….They pose no risk to customers and this has been confirmed by tests conducted by the FSA and an independent laboratory.”
I shall keep you updated if anything else comes to light.