GAO Report Highlights FDA’s Incomplete Response to Concerns About Arsenic Exposure, Especially for Children
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Apr. 17, 2018) – Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports, reiterated its call today for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to finalize its guidance limiting the permissible levels of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereals, and for Congress to set tough limits on inorganic arsenic in all rice-based food.
Consumers Union is urging the FDA to issue its final guidance in light of a new Government Accountability Office report that found the agency has not done enough to limit the risks to consumers of arsenic in food. Infants and children are especially vulnerable to exposure to arsenic, a known carcinogen that has been linked to damage to the brain, cardiovascular system, and nervous system. Tests by Consumer Reports have found worrisome levels of arsenic in rice cereals.
The FDA proposed a limit for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereals two years ago but has yet to formally adopt it. The GAO recommended that the FDA finalize its guidance by the end of 2018, which the FDA agreed it would do. However, the FDA has not yet shown it has taken concrete steps to reach that goal.
“The health risks of inorganic arsenic are well established and a serious concern, especially for small children,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union. “The FDA should finalize its guidance limiting inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereals without further delay to protect vulnerable children from this dangerous contaminant. We also urge Congress to pass the RICE Act so that the FDA is required to address the risks from arsenic in all rice-based food.”
The RICE (Reducing food-based Inorganic Compounds Exposure) Act, sponsored by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), would require the FDA to set mandatory limits on the amount of inorganic arsenic contained in rice and rice-based foods.
Consumers Union first called for the FDA to set limits on the maximum levels of inorganic arsenic allowed in rice in 2012. In September 2012, Consumer Reports released the results of its tests that found varying levels of inorganic arsenic in more than 60 rice and rice products. No federal limit exists for inorganic arsenic in most foods, but the standard for drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb). That level is twice the 5 ppb that the EPA originally proposed and that New Jersey actually established.
Using the 5-ppb standard, Consumer Reports found that a single serving of some rices could give an average adult almost one and a half times the inorganic arsenic he or she would get from a whole day’s consumption of water, about 1 liter. Consumer Reports also discovered that some infant rice cereals, which are often a baby’s first solid food, had levels of inorganic arsenic at least five times more than has been found in alternatives such as oatmeal.
According to federal data, some infants eat up to two to three servings of rice cereal a day. Eating rice cereal at that rate, with the highest level of inorganic arsenic Consumer Reports found in its tests, could result in a risk of cancer twice as high as its experts calculated to be acceptable.