Rice may contain measurable levels of arsenic -- a carcinogen -- but according to the Food and Drug Administration, consumers need not worry about their immediate health after eating rice and related products.
The FDA's new guidance, released Sept. 6 for consumers, however notes that the long-term health risks remain unclear. The agency said it needs to conduct more research to see if eating rice over time can raise risk for cancer and other health wies.
"These are the next steps," said Dr. Suzanne C. Fitzpatrick, senior advisor for toxicology at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "To look at exposure levels, to analyze the risk, and determine how to minimize that risk for the overall safety of consumers, including vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women," she said.
Arsenic is a chemical that occurs naturally in the environment, and combines with other elements to come in tow forms: organic and inorganic. The chemical can occur naturally in soil, or be added to the environment through industrial processes like burning of wood and fuel, or through use of pesticides. Arsenic can't be destroyed, so wind may send particles into the air, water and land -- and subsequently into our food and water supplies.
Inorganic arsenic is the more toxic form of the chemical. Prolonged exposure has been linked to increased risk for cancers, but also other health issues including heart disease, diabetes and neurological deficits.
Previous research - including studies from Dartmouth University and Consumer Reports -- found concerning levels of inorganic arsenic linked to rice, and rice products like infant formula and cereal bars.
The FDA decided to conduct its own tests of more than 1,300 samples of rice and related products, and determined the levels of "inorganic arsenic" were too low to cause immediate health damage.