The Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed new limits for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal, an effort to reduce the leading source of arsenic exposure for babies.
The draft guidance to industry would cap the inorganic arsenic at 100 parts per billion, a level that most infant rice cereals already meet, or are close to meeting, the agency said.
Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told reporters that the agency was essentially directing manufacturers to find sources of rice that have the smallest amount of inorganic arsenic, and to use that in infant rice cereals.
Gerber issued a press release on Friday saying that its cereal already meets the guidance level proposed by the FDA.
Babies’ consumption of rice, which is primarily through rice cereal, is about three times greater than that of adults, according to the FDA. Most people consume the highest amount of rice, relative to their weights, at about 8 months of age.
The proposed limit is based on testing of rice and non-rice products, as well as a 2016 FDA risk assessment on the association between exposure to inorganic arsenic and adverse pregnancy outcomes and neurological effects in early life.
The agency said that inorganic arsenic exposure can result in a child’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests.
The agency tested 76 samples of infant rice cereal from retail stores and found that nearly half met the agency’s proposed limit of 100 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic. More than three-quarters of the samples had levels at or below 110 parts per billion.
Arsenic naturally occurs in the soil and water, and fertilizers and pesticides also contribute to levels. It isn’t intentionally added to rice, and can’t be completely removed. Inorganic arsenic, which is considered toxic by the World Health Organization, contains oxygen, chlorine and sulfur. Organic arsenic contains carbon and hydrogen.
The agency advised parents to feed their babies iron-fortified cereals; they can include oat, barley and other grains. It also urged pregnant women to consume a variety of foods, including grains, such as wheat, oats and barley. The FDA also noted that cooking rice in excess water – six to 10 parts water to one part rice – can reduce a significant part of the inorganic arsenic.
Urvashi Rangan, executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center, said that Consumer Reports was pleased by the FDA’s proposal, which he said was close to the level proposed by the group three years ago. But he said the organization remains concerned that other rice-based products consumed by children and adults don’t have any such standards. “This is particularly true of children’s ready-to-eat cereals,” he said, urging the FDA to set levels for these other products.
The agency will accept public comments on the proposed limits for 90 days.