What You Need To Know About Arsenic In Your Food: Part 2

8 Comments 10 October 2012

Just to fill you in, I was invited last Wednesday to Arsenic In Your Food: A Coversation With Consumer Reports where they assembled an expert panel to discuss their latest report about arsenic in rice and rice based foods. This is the second blog post sharing my notes from the event.

To start at the beginning of this series please read:
Have Some Arsenic With Your Rice
How To Reduce Arsenic In Cooked Rice
What You Need To Know About Arsenic In Your Food
And please do your homework and read the actual Consumer Reports article Arsenic In Your Food. (No TV until you do your homework!! :))


Dr. Keeve Nachman
, Farming for the Future Program Director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
Dr. Keeve Nachman’s work has focused on the human health risks from arsenic in poultry waste. He recently published two ground-breaking studies that found residues of caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and arsenic in poultry by-products that are routinely fed to chickens, pigs, cattle and fish.

Setting an acceptable level of risk for arsenic is tricky.

Let’s start with arsenic in water.

In 2001, the EPA recognized a risk for the level of arsenic in drinking water at 50 ppb (parts per billion); a standard that was created in the 1950’s.

(Remember the notes from Dr. Harbut’s information? The clear link between arsenic and cancers and other deadly health issues.)

So, due to a clear link to cancers due to exposure to arsenic in water, the government reduced the standard to 10ppb. The ratio of cancer related to this amount of arsenic exposure is 1:10,000.

(Here’s a quote from the original Consumer Reports article on this:
“Keep in mind: That level is twice the 5ppb that the EPA originally proposed and that New Jersey actually established. (I know, ironic. Go NJ! ;)) Using the 5ppb standard in our study, we found that a single serving of some rices could give an average adult almost one and a half times the inorganic arsenic he or she would get from a whole day’s consumption of water, about 1 liter.”)

You may ask, “Why would the government choose a number higher than the proposed standard of 5ppb?” Because they had to figure in the economic/technological feasibility in the lower standard.

(Great. We drink arsenic because it is more economical. Thx.)

It’s true, arsenic is ubiquitous – it’s in the air, water, etc., but a lot is from man. A lot was from pesticides used in the 1980’s- 90’s and is in the soil. Some is from coal, and smelting.

Another source is from the arsenic-laden drugs that are fed to animals. Particularly Roxercone a poultry drug. (I’m not sure how to spell these drugs.) It leads to arsenic build up in the chicken liver. Another drug is Histerstat and Nyerstone. In June 2011 Pfizer stopped selling Roxercone to poultry farmers to do independent studies on it, but the FDA did not demand this to stop. This means that Pfizer could start supplying it again to farmers and no one would ever know.

The next problem is the arsenic-laden excrement from these animals is then used as fertilizer and contaminates soil.

The only way to avoid arsenic laced chicken is to buy USDA organic.

Someone asked a question about Asians, since they eat so much rice. Dr. Keev said it was a good question. It’s really complicated to know, because arsenic levels vary. Asian rices seem to have less arsenic, plus the Asians eat more white rice, rinse it and prepare it using what we would call the “pasta method”.

Ferns are effective at pulling arsenic out of soil. Plants like this (including rice) are called “arsenic accumulators”. (Hmm…food snobs eating Fiddleheads, beware!) Perhaps plants like these can be used to help restore tainted soil.

Jay Highman
President of Nature’s One, America’s first organic baby formula.

Business was booming for the organic baby formula company, until February 16th, 2012 when Dartmouth came out with a study showing that organic brown rice syrup contained alarming amounts of arsenic. Nature’s One used organic brown rice syrup.

(Sorry, organic doesn’t make any difference. Personally, if I had kids, they wouldn’t be eating any rice syrup. Uh, I’m not eating any rice syrup!)

Jay told the story of how the company handled this…and how it is an example of how federal regulation can help businesses to actually know about these risks and prevent them. He had been asking his supplier’s about this and they kept telling him that there was no standard to worry about.

He was familiar with gluten-free standards being at 20ppms and when his brown rice syrup supplier told him the arsenic level was at 3ppms it sounded very low.

When the Dartmouth study made it clear that brown rice syrup arsenic levels were not the best ingredient for his customers, the company was determined to figure out a solution.

At first they thought of tapioca syrup, but then he found out if it was processed wrong it could form cyanide. (Curious to know more about this.) There were nutritional attributes of brown rice syrup that they wanted to retain. Innovation let to a pristine source. A special process that removes 50% of the arsenic from the tainted brown rice syrup. So, then they tested it after running it through this same process twice, and no levels of arsenic were found.

(This is such a great example of responsible business! I bet he’ll now make a ton of money from selling the secret arsenic removal process! Whoo Hooo! Maybe someone will figure out a way to remove it from rice flour. The race is on!)

Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food and Water Watch
Patty Lovera coordinates Food and Water Watch’s food policy work. Food & Water Watch was one of the first public interest groups to raise the issue of arsenic in the food supply, urging the government in the summer of 2011 to investigate arsenic levels in apple juice.

Advised to mix up your grain diet, but urged for federal regulation for groups like infants and those on a gluten-free that can’t. (Well, we can…but, I digress)

They consider these groups “high risk”.

She explained how the media motivates the FDA, then gave the example of arsenic found in apple juice and how the media motivated the FDA to look into it.

She then pointed out how regulation seems to be carved up into different agencies. That can make things look like less of a threat when we aren’t looking at things with a TOTAL WHOLE EXPOSURE view. And called for a “more holistic way.” 

She then acknowledged that we are overexposed and sure, more studies need to be done, but once you know you are in a hole – stop digging!

Then pointed out that the government hasn’t even banned the use of arsenic laden chicken feed.

She also recommended cooking tips.
No more than 1 and 1/2 cup of kids cereal a week.
And if cooking rice, rinse it until it is clear before cooking.
Then cook it pasta style. This reduces 30% of the arsenic.


She encouraged people to get a municipal water report aka a “consumer confidence report”.  Especially for well water. Safe Drinking Water Hotline 800-426-4791.

They mentioned that distilling water removes the arsenic.

OK, so there are my notes from the panel discussion. The prevailing theme was we need government regulation on arsenic levels in food.

Next I’ll share some key points from the original Consumer Reports article, because I know some of you just want the Cliff Notes version.

And after that I’ll share some great brands of gluten-free food that are rice free. And some recipes using gluten-free grains that are a good alternative to rice.

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Your Comments

8 Comments so far

  1. 1

    Great summary. Lotus Food grows its rice without flooding. I learned about them as I was doing my arsenic research. University of Florida did the “fern” research but when I asked my experts about it they said it was too cost prohibitive to remove the arsenic from the soil. They urged agricultural changes such as not flooding the fields and using rice breeds (not gmo) that weren’t arsenic lovers. (http://chn.ge/xJGMe5) Again, any help on the petition, I would really appreciate. There are so many people who no idea of the risk. http://chn.ge/xJGMe5

  2. 2
    Laurel says:

    We get those big bags of basmati from Sam’s Club. That particular rice is grown in India. Have you heard anything about rice grown in other countries? Thanks!

  3. 3
    Jennifer says:

    I found out about high amounts of arsenic in rice 9 years ago when I was choosing a GF flour supplier for my newly diagnosed Celiac son. I buy flour from AuthenticFoods.com based in California who uses rice grown in California because it is is much lower in naturally accruing arsenic and more importantly, it is also much lower in inorganic arsenic (bad stuff) because of the different pesticides used in California. Steve, the owner told me about arsenic back then and we have been buying from him ever since. Plus we actually like his mixes too for cookies, bread and muffins. Since rice is a big part of our diet I choose a supplier who has cared about it too. He is more expensive by a little bit because the better quality rice is more expensive.

  4. 4


    Thanks so much for providing so much coverage on the topic. My diet has been thrown for a loop with the new findings, since I’m am (or was) avid about consuming rice-based products due to my intolerance. All your reporting is making it a much easier transition. Love that!

  5. 5
    Liz says:

    Thank you for all your research and work in getting this information to us Celiacs.

  6. 6
    ewake says:

    Arsenic in India is indigenous in the water, there are several studies showing HIGH inorganic arsenic concentrations (this is the worst arsenic you can be exposed to because your body has difficulty excreting it). Many people in India suffer from the symptoms of chronic arsenic exposure like skin tags on their hands, skin pigmentation and mee’s lines (look ’em up) so I would guess that rice grown in India is going to be just as high in arsenic if not higher. I used to work in water analysis and spoke to many people in India about this problem. Much of the arsenic in this country is also indigenous, BUT much of it comes from pesticides. I know from personal experience that water in the Dakotas is contaminated from arsenic baits left out for grasshoppers during the Great Depression. Yep, it just sits there year after year waiting for something to suck it up.
    I am more concerned about the effects of chronic long-term exposure from a life-long gluten free diet. Arsenic has a way of replacing the calcium in your bones and giving you peripheral neuropathies etc that are celiac disease symptoms anyway (numbness/tingling in extremities and bone problems). The CDC has information on its web site about arsenic exposure, but if you don’t have a science degree you may just want to skip most of it and focus in on the recommendation to consume selenium and folate rich foods because these foods chelate (remove) the arsenic from your system with minimal kidney damage or stress. However, selenium itself is a metal and although it acts as an antioxidant you can overdose on it, so sally forth with prudence!!! Personally, I will be eating a single brazil nut a couple times a weeks and will up my fruit and veggie consumption. A single brazil nut will give you the RDI for selenium.
    In closing I’ll just add, what a bummer about rice.

  7. 7
    Char says:

    Hi Kelly,

    I e-mailed Udi’s (because I eat so much of their bread!) and they said the following about their arsenic levels:

    Thank you so much for writing to us about our products. We continuously research and examine our ingredients to ensure the highest quality product possible. Regarding arsenic, we have done a full scale test of our rice derived ingredients and to date these products have tested negative for arsenic. If I can help answer any other questions for you please let me know.

    Have an Udiful day,

    [deleted name]
    Consumer Coordinator

    Udi’s Healthy Foods

  8. 8
    Alex says:

    Thank you for this great and excellent research in getting this information to us Celiacs.

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Kelly Courson


Thanks for stopping by! I'm Kelly Courson and this is where I've shared my gluten-free finds since 2003. The world has been my gluten-free oyster for 14 years now and I love sharing what I've learned in order to help others adapt to a gluten-free diet. Have a look around and feel free to leave a comment. Connecting with people like you is what has kept me going this long! Seriously.

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