Rice is known to have concentrations of arsenic that find their way into the population, especially among people who consume more rice than other staples. New research is suggesting that even organic brown rice can have high concentrations of arsenic, and with processing to produce syrups and other packaged foods, the poison can become more concentrated.

A rather worrying example has been released this week by Jackson BP et al. entitled “Arsenic, Organic Foods, and Brown Rice Syrup”, published in the latest issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. Their work shows arsenic in cereal bars, sports bars and even baby food, at concentrations as much as six times above the EPA safe level for drinking water.

The problem largely seems to be due to the processing of Organic Brown Rice Syrup (OBRS) that is used as an alternative to sugar or corn syrup sweeteners, in a variety of products.

It’s therefore not enough simply to be aware of possible arsenic concentrations in rice alone, but consider also the products that contain rice syrup as an ingredient.

Jackson at al used ICP-MS and IC-ICP-MS to determine total arsenic concentrations, as well as dimethylarsenate (DMA).

A so-called ‘organic’ infant milk formula, containing OBRS as the primary ingredient, had arsenic concentrations up to six times the EPA safe drinking water limit. Other products, such as cereal bars and high energy foods containing OBRS also had higher arsenic concentrations than equivalent products that did not contain OBRS. Inorganic arsenic was the main type found in the majority of food products tested in the study.

There are no US regulations in regards to arsenic in foods, but it seems that OBRS is a major culprit, and the team’s findings indicate that some urgent action is needed to address the issues they present.

Certainly, regulatory limits and regular testing would not be hard to implement on foods, as they are already in place on drinking water. It’s shocking that even baby formula is slipping through the net with contamination.

Written by Rupert Shepherd