Next Steps on Arsenic and Rice

This blog was originally posted on FDAVoice on September 12, 2013.

On Sept. 6, FDA announced the results of testing 1,300 samples of arsenic in rice and rice products and found that the arsenic levels in rice do not present an immediate or short-term health risk. As we said last week, the next step is to assess the potential health risk from long-term exposure to the arsenic in rice and foods made with this grain.

And that is where my job starts. I am a scientist at FDA and I’d like to explain the scientific legwork that will be done over the next few months by some of the most preeminent arsenic experts in the country.

This is a daunting task, with one complicating factor being the sheer volume of rice products. When we conducted the risk assessment on arsenic in apple juice that led to the proposed limit, or action level, of 10 parts per billion, we were essentially dealing with one product. With rice, there are different varieties and hundreds of products made with rice. We’ve already started the work. A thorough risk assessment is underway by FDA scientists at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in consultation with colleagues in FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research and in other federal agencies, including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Scientists and medical experts of all kinds will be working together. I am a toxicologist and will be looking at the data on possible different adverse effects from arsenic exposure in rice. Nutritionists will be studying rice consumption patterns and epidemiologists will be looking for patterns of disease. There will be statisticians, experts on exposure to arsenic, and many others.

We will use published research on people who have been exposed for years to elevated levels of arsenic in the drinking water. Importantly, we will be looking to see how arsenic may affect the youngest and most vulnerable among us.

This analysis will take time. As it progresses, the rice industry, university researchers, and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture are working to identify ways to reduce arsenic levels in rice during production. This is important because we want to minimize exposure to contaminants like arsenic in our foods whenever feasible.

In the meantime, let me repeat FDA’s advice to eat and to serve your family a balanced diet that contains a variety of grains, including wheat, barley, and oats. Consistent with advice long given by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), we recommend that infants and young children eat a variety of grain cereals for good nutrition. According to AAP, there is no medical evidence that rice cereal has any advantage over other cereal grains as a first solid food.

My colleagues and I are scientists, but we’re also consumers and parents ourselves. It is our responsibility – our mission –  to put forth the best possible science on this issue – to understand and minimize any long-term risk from the presence of arsenic in rice and foods made with rice.

Suzanne FitzpatrickSuzanne Fitzpatrick
Senior Advisor for Toxicology
FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

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