Arsenic is a powerful carcinogen for humans. Long-term exposure to low doses of the element increases the risk of bladder, lung and skin cancer, as well as infertility and the possibility of diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. It can put children on a course for other health problems later in life.
Estimates are that more than 2,000,000 US citizens drink water from private wells with high concentrations of arsenic. And this past year, Consumer Reports released its findings of arsenic in apple and grape juice, in rice and other foods.
Two types of arsenic were isolated, organic and inorganic. In this context, the words have nothing to do with the labels on some food products and describe the element’s chemistry.
Inorganic arsenic is the human carcinogen. Organic arsenic isn’t as toxic but is still a matter of concern.
In September, Consumer Reports published results of its analysis of 223 rice samples, including white and brown, organic and conventionally grown, domestic and imported, and both store-brand and brand-name products, including rice cereals, syrups, beverages, pasta, flour and crackers.
All of the 233 samples contained both inorganic and organic arsenic.
Rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas had higher levels of inorganic arsenic than rice grown in California, India and Thailand. Brown rice had more arsenic than did white rice, probably because stripping away the grain’s outer layer stripped away some of the arsenic as well.
Rice attracts arsenic because it’s grown in water, which separates the arsenic from the soil and because rice is grown on land in the southern US were arsenic had been liberally used to protect cotton crops.
Similarly, arsenic had once been used in orchards and vineyards, which explains why some apple and grape juices sampled had levels of inorganic arsenic above federal standards for water.
A study published in 2007 in Environmental Health Perspectives found less arsenic in rice grown in California (see brands below) than in the southcentral US.
Another paper found that basmati rice from India and Pakistan and jasmine rice from Thailand had the least arsenic.
Based on its findings, Consumer Reports recommends adults have no more than 2-3 servings of rice products per week. Children should have no more than 1 to 1½ servings per week and avoid rice milk entirely before age 5. Some infant rice cereals had levels of inorganic arsenic at least five times higher than found in alternatives such as oatmeal.
Experts are asking the FDA to set limits for arsenic in rice products and fruit juices—as a starting point.
BTW, China is the only country that regulates the amount of arsenic in foods.
My Take on the report: Sigh. Who knew? I suggest you read the full report online where specific levels of arsenic in specific foods are listed. You’ll find the report at
I did some googling to find brands of California rice. At Cosco: Homai, SunWest, Bunge At Sam’s Club: Farmer’s Rice Other: C&F Label, Shin Mai, Sysco Classic, Kokohu Rice, Botan, Nishiki, Shirakiku, Han Guk Mi, Rhee Chun Rice, Tamaki, Lundberg
Sources: University of CA, Berkeley Wellness Letter, January, 2013 ConsumerReports.org, November 2012