A consumer advocacy group warns that infant rice cereals may contain six times the arsenic of non-rice cereals, citing the need for federal health officials to finalize regulations designed to limit arsenic levels.
In a report (PDF) published on December, the group Healthy Babies Bright Futures highlights the potentially harmful levels of arsenic still commonly found in infant rice cereal products consumed by young children.
It is known throughout the medical field that rice rapidly absorbs arsenic from the environment at nearly 10 times the rate of other grain products, and these researchers are asking federal health officials to implement regulations on the allowable levels of arsenic in rice cereals produced for infants.
Arsenic occurs naturally in water, air and soil in both organic and inorganic forms. Inorganic arsenic is more toxic and rice often has higher levels of this type of arsenic because it absorbs the arsenic from the soil in which it grows. Arsenic has shown to be a potent human carcinogen and a neurotoxin that has been linked to reduced IQ scored for children.
Currently, arsenic is strictly regulated in drinking water. However, there are no caps on the amount in rice cereal marketed for infants or adults.
Researchers from the group tested more than 100 cereals made from a variety of grain that were manufactured by Gerber, Earth’s Best, Beech-Nut, Nestle, and five other popular brands to determine the level of arsenic contained in the products.
The results indicated that non-rice cereal products contained 84 percent less arsenic on average, while infant rice cereals were found to have six times higher arsenic concentrations. All but one of the 42 containers of infant rice cereal that were tested had significantly higher levels of arsenic than non-rice cereal products.
Rice cereal is one of the first foods many infants receive, and is a common ingredient in many baby foods and snacks. Recent evidence reveals inorganic arsenic exposure can decrease a child’s performance on developmental tests, and may also cause neurological problems, lung and bladder cancer and other side effects.
According to the FDA, rice intake is three times greater for infants than for adults. The FDA proposed new limits for the levels of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal in April 2016, but has so far failed to finalize the limitations.
According to the researchers at Healthy Babies Bright Futures, cereal manufacturers have already begun attempting to lower the levels of arsenic in infant cereal products. Their research found the cereal products to contain approximately 85 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic on average in rice cereals when tested in 2016 and 2017, versus the 103 ppb average recorded by the FDA in 2013 and 2014.
Although it appears cereal manufacturers have taken steps to reduce arsenic in infant rice cereal, researchers from the advocacy group are calling for the FDA to act immediately to set an enforceable, health-based limit for arsenic in infant rice cereal and other rice-based foods to help mitigate potentially cancer causing and neurological harm exposure.