Right to Know and Arsenic in Food: Apple Juice and Rice

What is FDA doing about Arsenic in the United States Food Supply?

Besides air, water and soil did you know that arsenic is found in some food? Arsenic can be either inorganic or organic and the type of arsenic matters. Inorganic forms of arsenic are the harmful types and organic forms of arsenic are basically harmless. Both forms of arsenic have been found in soil. Until 1970 arsenic-based pesticides were regularly used in United States agricultural production. Consequently, trace levels of organic and inorganic forms of arsenic can be detected in some agri-business settings. Consequently, there could be arsenic in certain food and beverage products such as apple juice and rice. Does FDA monitor level of arsenic in food? Although FDA has been monitoring the levels of arsenic in foods for several years testing has increased.

Why Test? The short answer is that it is a step in the right direction to test and understand possible arsenic-related risks associated with the consumption of certain foods and remediate if necessary.

“A” is for Apple Juice and Also for Arsenic in Apple Juice

Several years ago, consumer advocates rallied for regulation of arsenic in apple juice. After years of debate, dialog and testing FDA did issue a guidance albeit in draft format in 2013 about acceptable levels in apple juice. Here is the latest.

Is Organic Apple Juice Better? 

According to FDA, the agency does not have clear data that demonstrates organic juice is better than non-organic apple juice in terms of arsenic levels. This is due to the soil where apple juice is grown.

FDA Extends Comment Period for Proposed “action level” for Arsenic in Apple Juice

FDA published a draft guidance in the Federal Register July 15, 2013 (78 FR 42086). The guidance identifies an action level for inorganic arsenic in apple juice that FDA deems both safe and viable under good manufacturing practices. It also describes the FDA’s intended sampling and enforcement approach. The draft guidance proposes an action level of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in apple juice. This is the same level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for arsenic in drinking water. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extended by 60 days the period for submission of comments, scientific data and other information in connection with its draft guidance for industry titled “Arsenic in Apple Juice: Action Level.” The new deadline is November 12, 2013.

Rice and Rice Products

FDA released on September 6, 2013 the analytical results of nearly 1,100 new samples of rice and rice products. Approximately one year ago, FDA initially tested 200 samples of rice and rice products. In addition to the analytical results above, the following provide useful information about Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products.

Immediate Short Term Findings

While levels varied significantly depending on the product tested, agency scientists determined that the amount of detectable arsenic is too low in the rice and rice product samples to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects.

Long Term Plan-What are FDA’s future plans concerning rice and rice products that contain arsenic? According to FDA, the next steps are to assess the potential health risk from long-term exposure to the arsenic in rice and foods made with this grain.

FDA needs to understand first and then issue regulations to address possible arsenic-related risks associated with the consumption of these foods. FDA is on the right path with apple juice products. Yet, the question remains how long will these next steps take for other foods that might contain arsenic?

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