FDA May Limit Arsenic in Infant Cereals

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The Food and Drug Administration today proposed a new limit for the level of arsenic allowed in infant rice cereal.

After an extensive study of arsenic levels in food, the FDA proposed a limit of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. The agency's testing has shown that most infant rice cereals now on the market (around 80 percent) already meet, or are close to meeting, this requirement, the FDA said.

The agency has already set limits for levels of inorganic arsenic in drinking water and apple juice, but the new proposal, if finalized, would be the first limit for arsenic in food.

Arsenic is an element found naturally in soil and water, but rice plants tend to absorb more arsenic than do other crops. What's more, infants consume much more rice than adults relative to their weight, mostly because babies eat infant rice cereal, the FDA said.

"Our actions are driven by our duty to protect the public health and our careful analysis of the data and the emerging science," Susan Mayne, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a statement. "The proposed limit is a prudent and achievable step to reduce exposure to arsenic among infants."

Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen, and higher levels of exposure over a lifetime may increase the risk of bladder and lung cancer. The FDA estimates that exposure to inorganic arsenic in rice products causes an extra four cases of lung and bladder cancer over a lifetime, for every 100,000 people in the United States (which is less than 1 percent of the nation's lung and bladder cancer cases). [Why Is Arsenic Bad for You?]

Studies have also linked exposure to inorganic arsenic in infants to decreased performance on certain developmental tests.

The FDA recommends that people eat a well-balanced diet to minimize the potential health effects of consuming too much of any one food. The agency recommends that parents feed their infants iron-fortified cereals, including rice, oat, barley and multigrain cereals. Rice cereal should not be the only source of nutrients for a baby, the agency said.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.