The Uproar Over Arsenic in Apple Juice and Rice

December 7, 2011 | By | Comments (2)

A few months ago you may have heard a bit of a juicy uproar over claims on the Dr. Oz Show about higher-than-acceptable levels of arsenic in apple juice.

Initially the FDA weighed in with a reassuring message that while apple juice does, in fact, contain the mettaloid, there’s a big difference between organic arsenic and inorganic arsenic.

In short: the organic stuff is essentially harmless, says the FDA, and passes through your body without incident. The “inorganic” kind—most often coming from pesticides—can be more toxic.

And yet, testing from the nonprofit group Consumers Union, published in the January 2012 issue of Consumer Reports, showed that the juice, in fact, seems to have too much of the bad kind. The report found that 10 percent of apple and grape juice samples, from five brands, “had total arsenic levels that exceeded federal drinking-water standards. Most of that arsenic was inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen.” In addition, “one in four samples had lead levels higher than the FDA’s bottled-water limit of 5 ppb. As with arsenic, no federal limit exists for lead in juice.”

And now, a few months later, there’s another dietary basic making headlines for levels of arsenic, as well as inciting renewed concern about apple juice: RICE.

A recent study from scientists Dartmouth university, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that people who ate more rice had higher levels of arsenic in their urine than those who ate less of the grain. Americans consume an average of a half cup of cooked rice daily, which is more than three times as much rice as they did during the 1930s, found researchers.

Rice has elevated levels of arsenic for two primary reasons, according to another Consumers Union report. “Rice is among the plants that are unusually efficient at taking up arsenic from the soil and incorporating it in the grains people eat. Moreover, much of the rice produced in the U.S. is grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas on land formerly used to grow cotton, where arsenical pesticides were used for decades, just as they were in orchards and vineyards.”

Research has shown that U.S. rice has among the highest average levels in the world of inorganic arsenic, which is known to cause skin, lung and bladder cancer in humans. For babies exposed to the toxin in the womb it’s been linked to problems ranging from low birth weight and infant mortality to hampered immune function and increased death rates from lung cancer later in life. What’s more since rice-based infant cereals are often the first solid food babies eat, high levels of arsenic in rice are worrisome indeed.

Meanwhile, while the FDA maintains that apple juice is still safe (there’s been no response on rice so far) just a few days ago they did announce that it’s considering additional inquiry on the subject, and will be conducting their own testing of the levels of arsenic in apple juice.

In the meantime, your best bet is to keep your diet varied, and go organic when you can., to help cut down on pesticides. And how about some cranberry juice and quinoa?