The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed an “action level” on the amount of inorganic arsenic in apple juice, based on findings from its latest data.

The agency are looking to set a limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic in the fruit juice, which will reduce it to the same level the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set for the amount of arsenic in drinking water.

Although previous tests by the FDA over the past 20 years have shown that arsenic levels in apple juice are low, the agency has used new tools in order to understand the breakdown between inorganic and organic arsenic levels.

The latest FDA data analyzed 94 samples of apple juice containing arsenic. It found that 95% of the samples tested were below 10 ppb total arsenic and 100% of the samples were below 10 ppb for inorganic arsenic.

The agency says the proposed level of 10 ppb takes this data into account, as well as a peer-reviewed assessment of inorganic arsenic in apple juice conducted by FDA scientists, based on lifetime exposure.

The FDA says it is establishing this threshold to provide “guidance to industry.” The agency takes into account the “action level” before proceeding with enforcement action if it finds a food product exceeds the threshold.

Arsenic poisoning (arsenicosis), is caused by the ingestion, inhalation or absorption of dangerous levels of arsenic, a natural semi-metallic chemical found in groundwater. Arsenic can be a carcinogen, a direct cause of cancer, if consumed in large quantities.

According to the FDA, possible sources of inorganic arsenic in apple juice include processing aids, prior use of arsenic based pesticides in other countries, naturally high levels of arsenic in soil or water, and exposure to arsenic from industrial activities.

Margaret Hamburg, managing director of the FDA, says:

“The FDA is committed to ensuring the safety of the American food supply and to doing what is necessary to protect public health. We have been studying this issue comprehensively, and based on the agency’s data and analytical work, the FDA is confident in the overall safety of apple juice for children and adults.”

Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, adds: “While the levels of arsenic in apple juice are very low, the FDA is proposing an action level to help prevent public exposure to the occasional lots of apple juice with arsenic levels above those permitted in drinking water.”

In its proposal, the FDA says that the presence of inorganic arsenic exposure in apple juice is a greater risk for children, who consume more apple juice relative to their body weight.

The proposal also points out that recent assessments from the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) / World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which also includes research from FDA scientists, conclude that food in general can be a major contributor to inorganic arsenic.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that exposure to inorganic arsenic in food needs to be reduced, and the FDA says that these findings “suggest a need to reduce exposure to inorganic arsenic from food.”

The FDA says it will accept public comments on the action level and the risk assessment for 60 days.