Researchers at Dartmouth University have found potentially harmful levels of arsenic in several commercial food products, including infant formula, cereal/energy bars and high-energy foods used by endurance athletes.
What's arsenic, which is known to be both toxic and potentially carcinogenic, doing in food products like infant formula and cereal bars?
As strange as it sounds, the common denominator here appears to be organic brown rice syrup.
As an article at the Dartmouth website points out, food manufacturers have recently begun using organic brown rice syrup as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup for sweetening food.
But, most rice produced in the US is grown in southern states where the soil was previously used for cotton farming, and so treated with pesticides containing arsenic.
Here are a few of the rather alarming results from the Dartmouth research:
Infant formula: Of the 17 infant milk formulas tested, only two had listed organic brown rice syrup as the primary ingredient. These two formulas, one dairy-based and one soy-based, were extremely high in arsenic, more than 20 times greater than the other formulas. The amount of inorganic arsenic, the most toxic form, averaged 8.6 parts per billion (ppb) for the dairy based formula and 21.4 ppb for the soy formula.
The current US drinking water limit for arsenic is 10 ppb, and that limit does not account for the low body weight of infants and the corresponding increase in arsenic consumption per kilogram of body weight.
Cereal bars: Of the 29 tested, 22 listed at least one of four rice productsorganic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice grain, and rice flakesin the first five ingredients. Those that had no rice ingredients were lowest in arsenic and ranged from 8 to 27 ppb. The cereal bars that did contain a rice ingredient ranged from 23 to 128 ppb total arsenic.
Energy products: Three flavors were tested. One revealed about 84 ppb total arsenic (100 percent inorganic arsenic), while the other two showed 171 ppb total arsenic (53 percent inorganic arsenic).
The lead researcher Brian Jackson and his colleagues have called on the FDA to establish regulatory limits on arsenic in food.
The FDA says it is working with the EPA to coordinate the review of the risk assessment being prepared and is discussing other steps the two agencies can take to reduce the overall levels of arsenic in the environment and in foods.