Arsenic in Organic Brown Rice Syrup and Rice. How to Eat Rice Safely

How Safe is Your Rice?

How Safe is Your Rice?

Just to recap, in my previous article, I discussed the recent Dartmouth study which revealed that high levels of inorganic arsenic were present in organic brown rice syrup (“OBRS.”)   The team focused its study on  toddler formulas, energy performance products, and cereal bars. The current way of farming rice in soil which contains man-made, cancer causing arsenic is the problem.  But we are here now.  Now what?

What Did the Rice Companies Say?

I happen to use organic brown rice syrup (“OBRS”) and couldn’t believe what I was reading.  Lundberg is the maker of OBRS.  Their public relations’ firm sent me the following response:

“As we look into the findings of the study released on 2/16/12, we will continue to investigate, evaluate and acknowledge the research while continuing to place the consumer’s health at the forefront of our concerns. It is important to remember that U.S. grown rice has been a wholesome source of nutrition, both here at home and internationally, for over 300 years. Since arsenic is naturally occurring, trace levels are present in all rice, and a wide range of fruits, vegetables, grains and seafood, as well as presence in the air and drinking water.”

They also indicated that in the past,  they didn’t test their rice.  Since my email exchange with their PR firm, Lundberg posted on their website their course of investigatory action.

 In addition, the Dartmouth study found  two of Nature’s One’s toddler formula products contain high levels of arsenic.  Both products contain OBRS.   The Company stated that their brown rice syrup is third party tested. The results found “undetectable amounts of arsenic at laboratory testing limit.”  What the heck does this mean?

But here is the rub.

  •  The issue at hand is inorganic arsenic which is man induced from pesticides, contaminated water, and other factors.
  • Why haven’t the rice food companies tested their rice prior to the Dartmouth study?   Can they honestly say they didn’t know about Professor Meharg’s 2007 study which spelled out the dangers of arsenic and rice.  (FYI, Dr. Andrew Meharg is a bio-geo-chemist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.  He is an expert on arsenic in the environment.)
  • In 2009, the European Food Safety Authority stated in their article, “Scientific Opinion on Arsenic,” young children under the age of three are most exposed to inorganic arsenic.  They further stated that their exposure is 2 to 3 times greater than an adult.  Oops, they didn’t see that article either?
Am I the only one here shaking my head?  For at least five years, the rice industry knew there was a problem. The EU and the FDA knew there was a problem.  Why now are the companies panicking?

 What Can You Do:

Since we obviously can’t rely on the companies to test nor the government to protect us, here are some guidelines.

  • Sign my petition over at Change.org asking the FDA and the EU to step it up and create guidelines. (Share it with your friends and post it to Twitter and Facebook.)   We need to have our voices heard.
  • Read ingredients when you buy a product.  The Dartmouth Team advised parents of young children to talk with their doctors whether they should switch from products containing brown rice syrup.   There may be medical reasons why your child is on a particular formula.  (Remember, Brian Jackson, the lead author on the study said the problem was with brown rice syrup, organic or otherwise.)
  • Don’t panic.  Scientists at Dartmouth and other universities are currently studying the short term effects of exposure to low doses of arsenic in children and infants.  At this point, very little is known.  According to Jackson’s team, you don’t need to have your child tested for arsenic exposure since arsenic is excreted within 2-3 days.
  • Make Your Own Baby Formula:  Sarah at the Healthy Home Economist, a real food blogger, suggests making your own organic baby formula. Note, Sarah advocates the use of raw milk so this may not be an alternative for you.
  • If you have a well, have the water tested for arsenic.
  • Check your energy bars to see if brown rice syrup is a primary ingredients.  The Dartmouth team states consuming  2 to 3 bars a day could equal or exceed the EPA water standards for less than 10 parts per billion of arsenic.
  • Switch up your rice grains:  Simply mix up your rice consumption with other rice grains.  John Duxbury, Professor of Soil Science and International Agriculture at Cornell University suggested eating basmati rice imported from India and Pakistan and jasmine rice from Thailand.  These particular rice plants are different than brown rice.  He stated via email:

 “Basmati and Jasmine rices do indeed seem to have lower levels of arsenic, which could be because of genetic differences in uptake, but also differences in growing environments.  We have found the latter to be more important.”

  • Professor Meharg suggested sourcing from the Himalayas and Egypt.   He further indicated that rice grown in California has a lower arsenic level then the South Central US.
  • Wash your rice.   A UK study revealed that rinsing rice for about 3 minutes and then cooking in six parts water to 1 part rice lowers inorganic arsenic by 45%.  The researchers noted that steaming did reduce the inorganic arsenic; however, their results were inconsistent with the different grains tested.   The study also noted that exhaustive rinsing (a practice in India) may help to reduce the levels further.  Exhaustive rinsing was not explained in the study.   In researching Indian rice cooking, one recipe recommended soaking your basmati rice for 1/2 to one hour in cold water.  Drain the water after soaking.

What Can the Rice Industry Do:

Use less water.  Professor Meharg stated

“Grow rice more aerobically, it still maintains good yields this way, and this massively reduces grain arsenic, though cadmium can then become a problem.”

Professor Duxhury stated,

“To reduce arsenic in rice, farmers need to grow rice under less reduced soil conditions to limit or prevent the dissolution of iron oxides.  Draining rice fields periodically, growing rice with alternate wetting and drying, or on raised beds with water in a furrow are all practices that farmers can use to reduce arsenic in rice.  Our experience is that total arsenic can be reduced to about half of the value obtained when rice is grown in a flooded field.”

Select rice breeds of low grain arsenic. Professor Meharg explained that farmers would be “simply exploiting natural genetic variances as traditionally utilized in rice breeding.” He assured me he wasn’t referring to the use of GMO rice seeds.

As you can see all these steps are pretty “do’able.”  Remember to sign my petition, share this post with your family and friends on Facebook and twitter.

Special thanks to Professors Dubury and Meharg, who patiently answered my exhaustive list of questions via email to help me write both part I and part II of the rice-arsenic dilemma.

Join the Conversation:

  • Will the infant threat be the last straw to demand  that the US and the EU regulate the amount of arsenic allowable in our food products?
  •  Given this amount of attention to the Dartmouth study, will the rice industry start to police itself?
  • What actions will you be taking?
  • Any thoughts about the FDA and the EU’s inaction?


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Comments

  1. 1

    says

    Another great article Anna, with lots of ideas! I am not surprised though that no one sought to fix this issue. Without public pressure these companies have no reason to change things. Money is more important than the safety issues they hope we will never find out about.
    Tiffany´s last blog post ..Healthy Pets, Green Pets

  2. 3

    says

    I’d just like to add… toddlers don’t need formula! Unless there is some medical reason that your pediatrician has prescribed formula to your toddler, just give them milk or a milk alternative (soy, etc.) instead.
    Abbie´s last blog post ..I’m On Blogcation!

  3. 4

    says

    My son has drank rice milk since he was 12 months old because of severe dairy and nut allergies. He is now 4 and a half. We just switched to soy milk for only one glass a day – because of the estrogen mocking capabilities soy milk can have. I believe that the makers of rice milk should have had a warning on the container. I am SO angry that my son was exposed to arsenic in his rice milk. I took him to his doctor and they are actually sending his urine to the Mayo Clinic to be tested since it had been within 2 days of him consuming the rice milk. I definitely will proceed with caution with the rice, but again I am SO angry that my child’s life was put in danger because Rice Dream didn’t want to market their product in a negative way.

      • 6

        Amanda Peterson says

        Hi Anna and everyone –
        Just got the results back from the Mayo Clinic. It had been two days since he consumed any rice milk and his levels were still high. I cannot believe that this has happend and that there was a product out there without any warning labels on it! I am so angry, I am actually on the phone with the FDA right now. They put me on hold, but I intend to do whatever it takes to make a change. Don’t drink Rice Dream! It is poison!
        Amanda

        • 7

          says

          Sorry to hear about your son’s results. Will you repeat it again to make sure arsenic goes away?
          I contacted Rice Dream and demanded some answers… here’s what they wrote back to me: (basically nothing)

          Dear Ms. Pavlov,

          Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding our Imagine & Dream Beverages. We strive to maintain the highest quality products and your satisfaction is very important to us.

          Many elements including arsenic are naturally present in the environment, soil, water, air, and food. Our ingredients are sourced to meet rigid specifications for quality and safety and meet all Federal, State, and Local Regulations for food safety.

          If brown rice syrup is used as a sweetener it will be listed in the ingredient line on a product label.

          The Hain Celestial Group purchases ingredients based on requirements designed to meet rigid specifications, food safety, and compliance with applicable regulations and certifications. We work with known suppliers who assure the quality and safety of their ingredients which are supported by signed affidavits, certificates of analysis, and analytical testing. Additionally, many of our food products receive independent certification from organic and kosher certification third parties.

          Although ingredients are predominantly sourced domestically, it is sometimes necessary to source globally. This is due to the fact that some ingredients are not available domestically or the domestic sources are limited based on market demand.

          We understand your concern and greatly appreciate your continued business and trust that we have outlined the measures that The Hain Celestial Group is taking to ensure that the ingredients used in our products are safe and comply with our specifications and overall quality standards.

          Thank you for your continued support. If we can be of further assistance, please feel free to contact us at 1-800-434-4246, Monday through Friday from 7AM – 5PM Mountain Time.

          Sincerely,

          Lynda
          Consumer Relations Representative
          Tam´s last blog post ..DHA Controversy in Organic Foods

        • 9

          Melissa says

          Hi Anna,
          My family is in the same situation, also caused by rice milk. Our tests showed that my 6yr old had 71.5ppb of methylated arsenic in his urine and my 3yr old had 41.5ppb. I put more info in a longer post below.

  4. 10

    says

    Hi,
    Great article.
    Wanted to add that scientists from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland have calculated that babies eating several 20g portions of baby rice a day could equate to a young child taking in three to four times the recommended maximum arsenic consumption. Unfortunately, beyond rice, babies often eat other rice-based products in the form of crackers, biscuits, puffed cereals, pasta, noodles and puddings — which could further drive up the exposure…I’ve also written an article few weeks ago about this issue, and I’ve included a couple of tips… Thanks for talking about this issue. Would you mind if I shared your petition on my blog as well? Thanks! Here’s my article…
    http://bebepure.com/dietary-ex.....-and-lead/
    Tam´s last blog post ..DHA Controversy in Organic Foods

  5. 15

    Toni McKellar says

    Someone is going to pay, if my grandson’s health is in jeopardy or not. This is unexcusable. The FDA better have answers soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Grandmother and RN Toni McKellar

  6. 18

    Toni McKellar says

    My grandson, Blake has arsenic poisoning from rice dream milk. He had milk and soy allergies. No warning levels from FDA. WE ARE GOING TO THE NEWS MEDIA! SOMEONE IS GOING TO PAY, INCLUDING FDA AND RICE DREAM.
    TONI MCKELLAR, GRANDMA, AND RN.

  7. 20

    Sarah says

    Thanks for sharing! I am looking closely at food labels now trying to buy less products including brown rice in any form, especially the syrup. I am a bit confused on one point though. A lot of the articles that I’ve read have said that brown rice grown in CA is preferable as it has approx 40% less arsenic than that grown in the south. I have been buying Lundberg rice which says that it is grown in CA, but you say that Lundberg makes OBRS – shouldn’t this make it lower in arsenic?

  8. 22

    Melissa says

    My 3 and 6yr old boys have been drinking organic rice milk since they were weaned. After hearing the news on organic brown rice syrup and doing just a little research on brown rice in general, I knew they were probably in trouble. So, despite advice that it wasn’t necessary, I went to my pediatrician who had their urine tested. Today we received the results of the arsenic, fractionated urine tests which found that my 6yr old had 71.5ppb of methylated arsenic in his urine and my 3yr old had 41.5ppb. The lab report explains that “methylated forms (MMA and DMA) arise primarily from metabolism of inorganic forms but may also come from dietary sources and are of moderate toxic potential.” I have found plenty of research compiled by the ATSDR division of the Center for Disease Control which explains the dangers of low-level chronic arsenic exposure. They also cite studies that found urinary excretions account for between 55-87% of daily oral intake. That would put my kids’ exposure between 47.7 – 75.5ppb for my 3yr old and 82.2 – 130ppb for my 6 yr old. My children’s exposure numbers are unacceptably high by FDA, EPA, OSHA, and WHO standards. But, every individual thing they consume is considered legal and within standards. This is very scary for our family and I am so upset that I have been allowed to unwittingly chronically poison my children with a supposed “health” food. Please try to learn more about your family’s cumulative exposure and don’t be dismissive of the dangers.

    • 23

      says

      Melissa, I so sorry to hear this. I can’t imagine how many people are in your same boat and don’t know it. Please send this article to everyone you know and as well as the petition. In fact, you can comment on the petition as well. Maybe more people will be willing to speak up. Anna

      • 24

        Melissa says

        Already did! Thanks for starting this petition. My own pediatrician admitted to me that he had received other calls before mine and told those people they didn’t need to worry. He said he has never had a case of arsenic poisoning in his career. I think that is only because people haven’t known they should be tested and then insisted on it. Thanks for helping raise the public consciousness.

  9. 27

    ManonB says

    I wanted to help clarify some things, that are important to understand about arsenic, and hopefully it will help some of the moms above. I am joining this conversation late, as I just received the petition to sign to change arsenic levels for rice.

    First off there are two kinds of arsenic, organic and inorganic. There are no blood tests, that I am aware of, that differentiate between the two. One is ok, the other is a by product of pesticides (usually from cotton crops). Rice incidentally is usually grown on land that used to grow cotton (in the USA) hence the higher levels of arsenic. I avoid rice grown in the US, especially from Texas or other southern states who have a history of growing rice. I usually buy rice from Thailand or Europe.

    As a medical person who practices in science, a mom who feeds her kids all organic, an advocate to label GMOs, a mom who fed her baby organic formula that had organic rice syrup in it (after I did EXTENSIVE research), I was dismayed at the Dartmouth Study because of its numerous flaws in the equipment they used to “measure” the arsenic, that in my opinion, border on negligence. The equipment they used is known to have a huge error rate because it is not meant to measure contaminants in a thick substances such as rice syrup. After saying that, yes, I believe we need to put some guidelines in place for arsenic levels in rice, but also for all chemicals and pesticides that leave a residue on our food, in our soils, the leach into our water supplies. Also that is why I went back to the Baby’s Only formula that I used for my child, and they again set the standard for third party testing that use the PROPER equipment for doing so. I feel comfortable with my choice in the formula I chose.

    If it is arsenic that one is worried about, the amount of chicken consumption should also be looked at: Chicken also has been found to have arsenic in it from its feed. Here is an article from today: Every year an estimated two million pounds of arsenic-containing chemicals have been fed to chickens in the United States. Why would the industry do such a thing? When tens of thousands of birds are crammed into filthy, football field-sized sheds to lie beak-to-beak in their own waste, they can become so heavily infested with internal parasites that adding arsenic to the feed to poison the bugs can result in a dramatic increase in the birds’ growth rates. Also, arsenic can give the carcass a pinkish tinge, which consumers prefer.

    Though arsenic-based feed additives have been banned in Europe for over a decade, they continue to be legal in the United States. One drug company announced a suspension of sales last year after the FDA found a particularly toxic form of arsenic in chickens given feed laced with one of the arsenic-containing drugs, but another arsenic-containing poultry drug remains on the market (nitarsone).

    Based on the USDA estimates of arsenic levels in the U.S. chicken supply, the prestigious Medical Letter on the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration concluded, “Chicken consumption may contribute significant amounts of arsenic to total arsenic exposure of the U.S. population….Levels of arsenic in chicken are so high that other sources may have to be monitored carefully to prevent undue toxic exposure among the population.”

    I hope this is helpful.

  10. 29

    Jen m anderson says

    This is really shocking concerning – re arsenic in any rice or food – it doesn’t make it right or safe.
    We wonder why some children have died in India from rice they were given, we wonder why some children are slow & have learning disabilities etc or why Alzheimer’s is diagnosed more and more often ….can’t help but wonder what is our government doing to stop this – does it not matter to them to prevent this – monitor all farms to the extreme with testing for chemicals applied ….yes even your farm could need correcting re soil conditions ..unscheduled .soil and plant testing is needed and not in the same field areas but different locations of the fields – chemicals applied are a big concern with seeing crop farmers going wild with various chemicals for better bigger yields – yes those sweet potatoes that are abnormally huge – I question what was used to make them grow so huge and heavy. I’m in Ontario Canada and have older relatives growing soya beans – I wish there was better testing of every type of crop – our government health &food department said it was up to THE CONSUMER to report anything re food etc – they haven’t enough staff. Then they don’t even give you follow-up results ?
    Please do report these things please don’t give up on making things right – every little but counts and makes a difference
    I’m buying long grain brown rice but realize I need to find the location of the safer rice to purchase. I have big concerns for my celiac mother stuck in Edmonton Alberta assisted care AHS capital care health who more then likely go with cheapest rice or cheapest celiac foods for my mother a former registered nurse – who doesn’t deserve risks to her health at this stage and age of her life especially with rice being the content of many celiac foods.
    I hope more people speak up – call into your government offices

    • 30

      says

      Jen, I have been fighting this battle for over a year. The FDA said there isn’t a problem. We need more people to make a fuss over arsenic in rice. Thanks for your amazing comment. My heart goes out to your mother. Anna

  11. 31

    says

    Government has to ban all those production companies which adds arsenic with organic brown rice syrup and rice. As we know arsenic is very harmful and poisonous for all living beings. So it’s our duty of government to check whether the products coming in the markets are safe for people or not. There are various diseases which can be caused by having arsenic in food . So, Please think about it and always sell and buy healthy food from the market. Thanks for informing about this news………

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