Arsenic in Organic Brown Rice Syrup. Who’s to Blame?

Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Rice and Arsenic. When Did Eating Healthy Become Unhealthy?

Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Rice and Arsenic. When Did Eating Healthy Become Unhealthy?

A recent Dartmouth study revealed certain products containing organic brown rice syrup as a major ingredient contained high levels of cancer causing inorganic arsenic.  The products tested were toddler formula, cereal bars, and high performance energy products.

Despite this recent study, inorganic arsenic in rice is not a new subject.  Past studies reported similar findings.  Yet, neither agricultural or regulatory measures have been introduced to reduce exposure.  There is just so much more to this story than a plea for governmental intervention.

Note, throughout the article organic brown rice syrup will be abbreviated as “OBRS.”  Further note, the study refers to  infant formula.  Deborah Kotz  of the clarified that the products tested were toddler not infant formulas.  Brian Jackson, lead author of the study confirmed her statements.

The Study’s Findings

First things first.  Let’s examine the study to see why it is alarming so many people, especially young parents.  The Dartmouth team bought the following products from a local store:

  • 3 brown rice syrups
  • 17 infant formulas, in which 2 contained organic brown rice syrup as an ingredient
  •  29 cereal bars in which 13 contained OBRS
  • 3 flavors of high energy performance products.

They found the following results:

  • Organic toddler formulas which  contained OBRS as a primary ingredient contained an arsenic concentrations 6 times the level of the EPA safe water limits. (Now can you understand why parents would be upset.)
  • The arsenic level of formula containing OBRS  was 20 times higher than those formulas which didn’t contain OBRS.
  • Cereal Bars and energy products with OBRS contained higher levels of arsenic then their non-OBRS counterparts.

What is Inorganic Arsenic?

Before I could understand the study, I had to wrap my head around what was inorganic arsenic, where did it come from, and what should we do about?

So what is inorganic arsenic?   Inorganic arsenic is found in the soils that were contaminated by arsenic based pesticides,  industrial districts or mining areas, municipal waste, or contaminated water. [source.]

Arsenic based pesticides were used to control boll weevils from damaging cotton crops in the south central United States.  Rice paddies have replaced cotton fields; however, the pesticide residue remains.  Thank goodness, arsenic based pesticides have been banned; unfortunately, the damage is done.

Rice is primarily grown in the South.  In 2007, a report noted that approximately 80% of all rice grown in the United States was in the South.  50% of rice production was grown in Arkansas.  The balance is grow in California.

 Why Rice?

But I still couldn’t understand why rice and arsenic were having such a troublesome relationship as compared to other plants.    John Duxbury, Professor of Soil Science and International Agriculture at Cornell University explains via email,

 “[r]ice has high levels of arsenic compared to other cereals because it is mostly grown in flooded soils, i.e. rice paddies.  Flooded soil becomes reduced (in the chemical sense), which means that iron oxides to which arsenic is primarily absorbed are reduced to soluble iron forms and arsenic is released into the solution and thus becomes available for uptake by rice,”

In fact if you are thinking only brown rice is effected, think again.  A 2007 study conducted by Professor Andrew Meharg and team, concluded a specialty white rice in Louisiana had the highest inorganic arsenic levels of the 134 different white and brown rice samples.   Conversely, California’s rice had the lowest amount of inorganic arsenic of the samples.

But Why Brown Rice Sryup?

But why organic brown rice syrup? According to Professor Meharg, OBRS is so concentrated that it would render higher levels of inorganic arsenic.  Jackson indicated by email that he didn’t think that it mattered whether they studied organic versus non-organic brown rice syrup.  Brown rice syrup was the culprit.

What is the Affect of Arsenic Exposure:

Inorganic arsenic is a human carcinogen. [source.]  Meharg’s 2007 study reports that arsenic

“has also been shown to have an impact on fertility; to increase the risk of hypertension, diabetes mellitus, vascular disease, and birth defects; and to impair children’s development by reducing intellectual function (2, 3). Additionally, there is new evidence to suggest in utero and early childhood exposure can result in a marked increase in mortality from lung cancer and bronchiectasis (4).”

He further explained that people who are gluten free, babies, Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans are more at risk.  This group consumes more rice products than the average person.   It would seem obvious that eating products with OBRS as a primary ingredient would be even more risky.

Right now there are no FDA or EU regulations regarding allowable arsenic levels in rice or rice by products like OBRS.  So, what are we supposed to do?  Read part II of my article discusses guidelines to wade through the rice patties.

Update: 2/24/2012:  Please sign my petition to reduce arsenic in rice at to wake up the FDA and EU.  Please share with your family and friends on Facebook, Twitter, and via email.  Here is the shorten url:  (Just cut and paste.)

Join the Conversation?

  • Given this news, how will you alter your rice and/or brown rice syrup consumption?
  • Do you give your child products that contain brown rice syrup?
  • Do you consume energy products with brown rice syrup?
  • How do you feel about the lack of regulation of arsenic?

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  1. 1


    Excellent article Anna! I kind of ignored this issue because we are grain free and thus rice and rice syrup free but this was very interesting nonetheless. There are numerous reasons out there to avoid grains and rice anyway but this is yet another.
    Tiffany´s last blog post ..Green Baby Shower Tips and Ideas

  2. 3


    I believe that arsenic in the soil also mimics silica – rice takes in silica to help it remain standing upright. This is likely another reason why rice is so highly loaded with arsenic compared to other grains or fruits/veggies

  3. 13


    Excellent information Anna! People don’t realize all the products brown rice is in. So many green smoothie & raw food advocates use brown rice protein. Celiacs and others who are gluten-free also need to be careful, as to all parents with small babies who are considering using rice cereal.

    And, the reason organic rice is affected also is because to get organic certification your fields only need to be free of synthetic pesticides & herbicides for 2 years. However, the arsenic-based pesticides & herbicides were sprayed approximately 100 years ago.

  4. 15


    I don’t know where I’ve been hiding that I hadn’t read about this. The thing is that I’m guessing (not sure of course) that this situation isn’t just one that affects rice, but other crops as well. It’s not only spraying today that is a problem, but what is in the soil from years ago that remains to poison our foods today as Danika points out. Unbelievable that you can’t get any of the organizations to come on board.
    Lynn´s last blog post ..Join the fun: Green Halloween-ChicoBag contest for kids is open

  5. 17

    T says

    Important: Inorganic Arsenic is still being added to our soils in the form of veterinary drugs and herbicides, according to a piece on Huffington Post:
    “Then FDA and EPA should address the sources of arsenic in food. Arsenic-containing herbicides can still be used on cotton; EPA should phase out this use since the arsenic can get into water and soil. Arsenic-containing drugs can be given to healthy chickens, turkeys, and pigs to promote growth and prevent diseases–FDA should prohibit this practice. And because of this drug use, relatively high levels of arsenic may end up in poultry manure, which can be used on rice fields as fertilizer, contaminating the crop. Until FDA prohibits feeding arsenic-containing drugs to chickens, rice farmers should not use poultry manure on fields.”
    I suggest that your petition be modified to address the need for change in our livestock practices and herbicide laws, and the need to ban the use of animal manure from animals fed arsenic. And as a side point, what the heck else is being put in our animal feed???!!! It should be food, and food only, not synthetic chemicals!

    • 18


      T, when I started the petition, Food Water Watch had a petition on arsenic and chicken. I didn’t want to duplicate their efforts. I mention the use of arsenic in chicken manure in my latest article and linked to the ABC Consumer Report that talks about all forms of arsenic getting into the soil. I would really appreciate you spreading the word about the petition. Most people don’t know about it or think it doesn’t affect them.
      Anna@Green Talk´s last blog post ..Arsenic in Rice. How Many Studies Do We Need for the FDA to Act?


  1. […] from all kinds of environmental assaults. So imagine how she felt when she found out that there is arsenic in rice and rice products? What she found out in her research was alarming. And she was angry and started a petition on […]

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