Is there arsenic in your rice cereal, rice cakes or baby rice? A report has revealed that more than half of the rice products tested by experts contained more arsenic than the recommended maximum for children - established by new EU regulations.
The regulations are due next summer, and will outline the recommended maximum levels of arsenic that should be consumed by adults and children.
The report is from Channel 4's Dispatches programme. Rice: How Safe is our Food, will air tonight, and includes the results of tests on 81 products at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University Belfast. The tests found that 58% of the products exceeded the maximum recommended level of arsenic. This included a number of baby rice products and rice cereal.
There are two types of arsenic found in food: organic and non-organic. The non-organic is the more harmful type - and is thought to cause cancer when consumed at high levels. Rice has more non-organic arsenic than many other products because it is grown in water.
The concern is that as our national consumption of rice increases, we are exposing ourselves to more arsenic.
The Food Standards Agency also looked into the arsenic levels in rice milk in 2009, and recommended that toddlers and young children between 1 and 4.5 years old should not have rice drinks as a replacement for formula, cows milk or breast milk, because they will consume large quantities relative to their bodyweight, which may be harmful.
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However, in response to the Channel 4 study, the manufacturers stressed that there was no risk to health associated with consuming their products, that they take the safety of their products very seriously, and that they would comply with all future legislation.
The health watchdogs agree that there is no immediate risk from consuming the quantities of arsenic revealed by the report. And the Food Standards Agency has repeatedly said that the arsenic found in rice is not a risk to health for people in Britain, because we eat relatively little rice compared to elsewhere in the world. It added that the best protection is simply to eat a balanced diet.
The experts add that the arsenic in rice varies dramatically depending on where it was grown. Basmati rice, for example, has two or three times less inorganic arsenic than rice from the EU or the US, so switching to basmati rice for some dishes could be a useful way to reduce your arsenic consumption.
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