Rice is a staple in many people's diets. There's white rice, brown rice, rice cakes, crackers, and cereal. And rice cereal is often a baby's first food. Consumer Reports' tests of 32 rices and dozens of rice products found that all contained arsenic. And lab tests show many of the samples had troubling levels of inorganic arsenic, which is the most toxic form and is a known human carcinogen that has been linked to skin, lung, and bladder cancer.
Consumer Reports' investigation found there was often more arsenic in brown rice than in white. However, it is not able to draw conclusions about specific brands because the tests are limited. But its analysis of government data shows that for Americans who eat rice, it is a significant source of arsenic exposure.
The USA Rice Federation, an industry trade group, insists, "There is no documented evidence of actual adverse health effects from exposure to arsenic in U.S.-grown rice."
However, Consumer Reports says that even low levels of arsenic exposure increase your risk of cancer and other health problems. It does not want to alarm people, but recommends that you limit the amount of rice that you eat. And research shows that rinsing rice thoroughly and cooking it in lots of water as you do with pasta can reduce arsenic levels. For babies, Consumer Reports recommends no more than a quarter-cup of rice cereal per day. And you can also substitute oatmeal or wheat or corn cereal, which are lower in arsenic.
No doubt you are wondering about the source of arsenic. Though some can occur in nature, for years pesticides containing arsenic were used in agriculture. Most have been banned, but residue remains in the soil. And arsenic is still permitted in some pesticides, fertilizer, and animal feed.
There are federal limits for the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water, but there are none for rice and most other foods. Consumer Reports' advocacy group is calling on the government to set limits on arsenic in food and ban its use in agriculture.