Arsenic in Rice

Periodic Table showing ArsenicRecently, the FDA published information about inorganic arsenic levels in rice and rice products. As part of an ongoing study, they analyzed arsenic levels in approximately 200 samples of rice and rice-based products available in the US.

The study quantified inorganic arsenic levels, and found an average of 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving of the rice and rice-based foods. (Organic arsenic, which is found in high concentrations in some sea foods, is much less toxic, and is not currently considered a health risk.) A summary of the initial 200 sample findings can be found at www.fda.gov  (search “arsenic”).

There is no known US “RDA” of arsenic. It is a naturally occurring trace element, but with chronic high level exposure it increases the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. At this point the FDA is investigating arsenic levels, but is not willing to do more than advise that consumers “eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains – not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food”.

So what does this mean for our pets? Should we be concerned about levels of arsenic in pet foods, since many foods contain rice?

According to Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, a veterinary toxicologist, there is no need to worry.  Our domestic pets are highly resistant to the toxic effects of chronic arsenic exposure.  They can be exposed to low levels of arsenic over long periods with no evidence of toxicity or increased cancer risk.  As for acute exposure, a 20 pound dog would have to eat about 5000 cups of cooked rice to experience a toxic effect, based on the levels found by the FDA.  (Although I know some labradors who might be interested in giving that a try, it is unlikely to be a problem for most pets.)

If people are still worried about arsenic levels in rice, she suggests boiling the rice in twice the usual amount of water, then draining it. This reduces the arsenic content by about 50%.  It also drains off a lot of the nutrients.

Should people be concerned about arsenic levels in rice? Remember the old adage, the dose makes the poison. In Asian countries where people eat large quantities of rice, arsenic toxicity is a definite problem. Some experts recommend that individuals eat no more than two cups of cooked rice a week. If you look on the FDA website, you can also see the arsenic levels they found in other rice-based products, including Fruity Dyno-bites. The good news is that now you can feel healthy about NOT eating those dry puffed rice cakes. Or you can feed them to the dog.

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