The Food and Drug Administration may consider new standards for the levels of arsenic in rice as consumer groups are calling for federal guidance on how much of the carcinogen can be present in food.
Wednesday the magazine Consumer Reports released the results of a study it conducted and called for federal standards for arsenic in rice. Consumer Reports, with 223 samples, found levels up to 8.7 micrograms. A microgram is one billionth of a kilogram.
The FDA is in the middle of studying 1,200 samples of grocery store rice products to measure arsenic levels. Arsenic is believed to be found in rice in higher levels than most other foods because it's grown in water, on the ground.
Toxicologists at Children's Mercy Hospital said arsenic is a toxin in metal form. It was used in pesticides before the 1980s and, because it's a metal, it has stayed in the soil where rice is made.
Grocery shoppers buy it for its dietary nutrition, but toxicologists like Dr. Jennifer Lowry said brown rice is a red flag food in the latest research.
The Consumer Reports study found higher levels of arsenic in brown rice than white rice, a result of how the two different types are processed.
"Really it's trying to decrease the exposure," she said.
Arsenic recently found in brown rice products can lead to skin cancer and even neurological disorders in children exposed to low levels of the metal over time.
"There are a lot of companies that are more organic and say they're more natural," Lowry said.
Organic and natural labels on food means more expensive items that are supposed to be better for people.
Brown rice is often used in organic baby food and juices. Lowry said the United States has no standards for how much arsenic is too much.
"Other countries in the world do. China, Australia, the UK all have levels they put as a maximum for arsenic. The U.S. doesn't," she said.
Congress has resisted efforts to set stricter standards in the Toxic Substances Control Act that could change the food people buy at grocery stores. This means that, currently, it's up to individuals to keep their food clean.
"Having a variety of foods instead of just staying on one will actually decrease the levels and maybe even encourage children eat a wider variety in their lifetime," Lowry said.
Lowry said if there was one thing she could change, it would be to strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act, which only Congress can do.
Scientists have known for decades that arsenic is present in rice, but the issue has renewed interest as consumers are more interested than ever in what they eat and technology has advanced to the point that inorganic and organic arsenic can be measured separately.
Click here to read the report and ways to limit your exposure.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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