Eating rice once a day can increase arsenic levels in the body by at least 44%, according to a new study from Consumer Reports.
The study surveyed more than 60 different rice products ranging from infant cereals to rice pasta and rice drinks and found "worrisome" levels of inorganic arsenic in most of the products. Others suggest, however, the levels are not cause for concern.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, inorganic arsenic has been linked to liver, bladder, and lung cancer.
Urvashi Rangan, Consumer Reports lead scientist on the study, said the study isn't meant to scare people from eating rice, rather "our investigation of arsenic in rice is supposed to inform consumers."
Rangan said, "We wanted to help consumers at least be able to take action for themselves in terms of moderating themselves. We asked the government to set standards."
The Consumer Reports study found that white rice had lower levels of arsenic compared to brown rice, and that rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, generally had higher levels of arsenic.
Currently, there are no federal standards for arsenic levels in food, but the Environmental Protection Agency has a federal standard for arsenic in drinking water. New Jersey has even more stringent standards, allowing just half the amount of arsenic allowed by the EPA.
Almost 40% of the products tested exceeded the New Jersey limits, but all were in line with federal limits for drinking water.
But "the levels are low," said Jim Coughlin, an independent toxicologist who has consulted for the USA Rice Federation in the past. "If we're going to eat, there's going to be arsenic in all our foods. It's found in fruits, vegetables and grains, and rice falls in the category. You've got to eat, and I think rice is a safe and nutritious food."
"Rice has always been considered a nutritious food and an important part of a healthy diet," the USA Rice Federation said in a statement. "We've been made aware of concerns about the level of arsenic in rice, but are not aware of any established studies directly connecting rice consumption and adverse health effects."
The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday released preliminary results of arsenic levels in more than 200 rice and rice sample products. The agency said it expects to finish collecting and analyzing more than 1,200 samples by the end of the year. Once the samples are analyzed and completed, the FDA will determine if additional recommendations are needed.
Currently, the sample levels of arsenic the FDA found are in line with what the Consumer Reports study found.
"Based on the currently available data and scientific literature, the FDA does not have an adequate scientific basis to recommend changes by consumers regarding their consumption of rice and rice products," the agency said in a statement.
However, the Consumer Reports study recommended people eat no more than two servings of a quarter-cup of dry rice a week.
For children under 5, the group advised against drinking rice drinks as part of their daily diet. They also recommended no more than one serving of infant rice cereal a day for babies.
Dr. Frank Greer, a pediatrician and former chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics nutrition committee, said that the data on arsenic in food is limited. "Yes, the numbers are concerning. But we don't really know what arsenic means when it's in food ... it's present in all foods. This includes organic fruits and vegetables."
However, he suggested that concerned parents follow the Consumer Reports suggestions. "No mother wants to take any chance with an infant. So if she feels that way about it, and Consumer Reports is all we have, I think that's what she should follow."