AUSTIN -- Consumer Reports Magazine has released a new study detailing what it calls worrisome levels of arsenic in many common types of rice products. The Food and Drug Administration came out with a similar study Wednesday. What does it mean for your family's health?
The report finds rice eaten just once a day can drive up arsenic levels in the human body 44 percent. That increase in arsenic can rise to 70 percent in those who eat two servings.
"Consumers ought to take steps to moderate their consumption," said Consumer Reports Director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability Urvashi Rangan, Ph. D.
"The explanation for the elevated levels of arsenic make sense in that it's the old cotton fields of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas," said Dan Mackay, M.D., an ER physician at St. David's Emergency Center Bee Cave. "We used a lot of arsenic in the fertilizer back years ago, and now we're using them to grow rice."
Mackay says while arsenic is found in the ground naturally or organically, it's the inorganic arsenic that poses the potential threat.
"The inorganic comes from the old fertilizers that were in the soil," said Mackay. "It's well-known rice is grown in a lot of water, and therefore it is saturated with anything that leeches out of the soil. Arsenic is one. It absorbs it, because of its prolonged contact with water as well."
Consumer Reports tested for arsenic in many forms of rice, from cereal for babies and adults to brown and white whole grain, pasta and rice milk. Some products had five times more than the arsenic found in oatmeal and 1 1/2 times more than EPA's legal standard for drinking water. Inorganic arsenic is considered a level 1 carcinogen linked to lung and bladder cancer. Still, Mackay cautions consumers not to have a knee jerk reaction and stop eating rice completely.
There are a lot of other chemicals found in food in very low amounts like this arsenic that has never been proven to cause any type of cancers. Mackay says among the study's revealing findings is that white rice is actually healthier to eat than brown rice. He says that's because more arsenic can be absorbed in the husk and kernel of brown rice, which is eaten.