FDA Issues Warning on Arsenic in Infant Rice Cereal


After several years of study, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today advised parents to stop feeding their infants so much rice cereal, warning that the latest research now suggests that arsenic concentrations in the grain can interfere with cognitive development.

Still have questions about arsenic and rice? Pulitzer prizewinning science writer Deborah Blum provides some answers in a new post: “Ten Things to Know About Arsenic and Rice.”

It was the agency’s strongest acknowledgment yet that arsenic in the food supply poses a measurable risk to American citizens.

In a “Consumer Update” posted early this afternoon, titled “Seven Things Parents and Pregnant Women Need to Know about Arsenic in Rice and Rice Cereal,” the agency stated that it had found that “exposure may result in children’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests that measure learning.”

The FDA also advised pregnant women to avoid a diet high in rice products, again because of arsenic exposure, citing a “growing body of scientific studies linking adverse pregnancy outcomes to intake of relatively high levels of inorganic arsenic during pregnancy.”

Research has shown, the agency acknowledged, that rice takes up more arsenic from soil and water than any other grain. It is particularly effective at vacuuming up inorganic arsenic. The term “inorganic” is used by chemists to describe a compound that does not include the element carbon; inorganic arsenic compounds appear to possess an unusually wide range of cell-damaging abilities at the part-per-billion level.

The news of the FDA decision prompted one of the nation’s leading baby-food manufacturers, Gerber, to immediately post a note of reassurance online to its “Dear Gerber Families,” assuring parents that its product was safe and, in fact, met the new FDA proposed guideline for arsenic in rice — which is recommended at 100 parts per billion. That 100 ppb limit is, at this point, considered an advisory number rather than a legal standard.

Rice Cereal

The FDA issued new warnings on arsenic levels in rice products, including infant rice cereal. Gerber quickly assured consumers that its foods were safe. Visual by Melissa Doroquez/Flickr

Public comments will be solicited by the agency for the next 90 days before taking more official action.

In 2012, Consumer Reports, the public health advocacy and research organization, published an expose of arsenic in rice products, launching a national discussion of the issue. The organization’s report, as well as other widely publicized studies of related problems, including troubles with organic rice products, led to an FDA decision to review the problem. Consumer Reports had recommended a safety level of 90 parts per billion to be applied to a wider range of products.

Today, the organization issued a cautious, and slightly unenthusiastic, response to the FDA’s new guidance.

“While Consumer Reports is pleased to see that the FDA has finally proposed a limit on arsenic in infant rice cereal, and it is close to the level we recommended more than three years ago,” said Urvashi Rangan, director of the organization’s Food Safety and Sustainability Center, in an emailed statement, “we remain concerned that so many other rice-based products consumed by children and adults remain without any standards at all.”

“This is particularly true of children’s ready-to-eat cereals,” Rangan continued. “We believe the FDA can act swiftly to protect public health and set levels on these products based on the risk the agency has acknowledged in its announcement today, and we intend to continue to push them on behalf of consumers to do so.”

Both she and the FDA officials agreed that parents should feed their children — and themselves — a diverse diet to ensure good health. Although the recent FDA announcement focused primarily on arsenic risks linked to possible developmental issues, in its list of seven main issues, the agency also noted that arsenic exposure has been calculated to slightly increase the rate of both lung and bladder cancer in the United States.

It was, perhaps, with that in mind, that Rangan added to the recommendation for a diversified diet: “Focus on alternatives to rice.”

See What Others Are Saying

113 comments / Join the Discussion

    Yes I’m curious on the oatmeal my daughter is 5 months and eats the Apple and sweet potato oatmeal is that okay?

    Most scientists I know who study arsenic in the food supply say that oatmeal is their preferred choice for feeding children. I think you should feel very comfortable about this. It’s also good to feed a varied diet so if you find some other grains she likes – wheat, barley and so forth, I’d encourage that as well.

    I’ve read through all of the comments back and fourth on this, why, I’m starting to question. Origionally, because I have a daughter who is 9 months and has been on added rice to bottles due to ACTUAL diagnosed reflux, spitting up, and she was a greedy lottle thing and would choke on straight formula bottles, every time, and we tried every. Single. Bottle. And. Nipped. On. This. Earth. And the added rice helped, a lot. That being said, there is a Similac formula called Similac AR, which STANDS FOR ADDED RICE. So this crazy extremely dangerous is a little.. far fetched. As with everything with a brand new infant, they need to be monitored, and if they’re properly monitored then it’s isn’t a choking hazard, now is it? And I would like to address all the comments from people on here who are downing and negatively attacking people who did or didn’t do things a certain way with their children. First, I don’t give a single **** what you think you know because of YOUR experience with YOUR child, or how much research you’ve read. Because at the end of the day, that is exactly what it is, YOUR EXPERIENCE AND THE REASEARCH YOU READ. Until these things are coming for a medical doctor, better yet, A SPECIALIST, on the subject, then I don’t want to hear anything you’ve got to say. How would you feel if the information your so forcefully throwing onto someone actually negatively effects someone’s baby, or injury them?! Would you feel bad or guilty at all because you made someone feel like they should do it your way when you aren’t really all that educated, because you just read some stuff and experienced some stuff? Because I would hold you fully liable. Now, sharing your experiences and beliefs and stances on a subject is fine, but coming on here and throwing DO NOTS, NEVER, DON’T YOU DARE, YOU SHOULDN’T’S around is not only wrong, it’s mean. Think about that. And until you can hang your medical degree on a wall somewhere, then I don’t want to hear your medical advice, thabks! My daughter is perfectly fine, both physically and mentally, sctually she’s excelling in almost every aspect of milestones, and she was on rice in EVERY bottle from 6 weeks til now currently, as we speak she is drinking a bottle. And she no longer chokes on her bottles and her reflux is under control. Thanks ladies!

    Well said I am on my fourth child that gets rice in her bottle… Ik every child is different but my other three were just fine as well with the rice… My 6-7 month old lil girl is happy an VERY healthy… An I absolutely agree with you… Cause you can’t raise a child on someone else’s advice or experience… I do take advice from anyone around me but mostly won’t try them cause I know what’s best for MY child…

    Hello there,
    first you need to know what arsenic is. It’s a half metal which is carcinogen, means it can and will produce and or feed cancer cells, in some years, beside other diseases. The researches and results are clear and findable, its a high effective poison and in same time it is healing, so what now. The amount and the type is the key. Because most people do not know, that arsenic is everywhere and that means every body is used to it.

    So No one will feel it, no one will see it now, especially not in small amounts, NO red nose can be observed or researched private. Here in this post it is also not mentioned what type of arsenic and there are severals was detected. So this warning is nonsense as arsenic is also used as a slow and silent killer, as it can not be detected easy.

    Also this article warns from cognitive development, this is also a long term effect, same as cancer, but cancer can be linked to arsenic, cognitive never, you see it maybe never, maybe in some years, and maybe you just do not recognize it at all, it is like this, your child will become maybe 20% slower in learning, maybe 50% slower or maybe unable to learn anything, maybe the kid will run into several other problems, maybe into none, but from where you should know, that this is related with food 10 or 20 years ago? It could also be just normal, that your child is not so intelligent, to say it carefully.

    This article basically just safe someones a$$, to speak it out clear, they warned you and the rest is your job. Oh, and when you add arsenic to someones food you land infront of a court for planed murder! Think about that, why these producers do not land there. Same with GMO, it can have long term effects, No one knows that now, we will see it in 20 years…like what happend with anti baby pills and Thalidomide as example. But again, try than, to link it to a special cause, you can not! So in final end, it is your own fault, you alone will pay the bill, and in this case your kid also. So think twice what you and your family is eating, as food and water are two major elements of beeing healthy. Here in germany it is now a topic that water in PET bottles is full of hormons and softener, so here you have the next topic to think about…

    Yes, arsenic has been linked to a number of cancers; the FDA cites lung and bladder cancer specifically in its warning. The good thing is that because it’s not a full heavy metal – like, say lead – it metabolizes out of the body in a couple days though.

    If your baby has reflux you might want to fix the reflux not give them gruel in a bottle. This might be a fix to the issue but its not a cure, since you now have read that there is an increase risk of arsenic maybe look into changing her diet and fixing the real issue.

    I fed this to all five of my children. They are all brilliant college graduates. Go figure.

    Okay worried parents. Calm down. If it freaks you out, don’t use it. Simple. If you’ve already used the rice cereal with yoyr infant, chill. You didn’t know and you can stop blaming yourself. People have been consuming rice products for thousands of years and the human race has survived so I think it’s okay to use/eat. New regulations will be put in to place so it won’t continue to be a concern.

    I agree–we didn’t know. But now I am calling Earth’s Best and asking them, point blank: do you third party test for arsenic in your ingredients? And they refuse to answer. Because they don’t want to be liable, I am guessing.

    The problem is that we were only spraying arsenic-based pesticides on cotton crops for the last hundred years or so, so we have not actually been exposed to this level of arsenic for more than a couple of generations. This is what is so concerning. The very fields where they grow rice now, were once cotton fields, at least in the Southern US. In California this is not the case, and that’s why the rice is so much lower in arsenic.

    Earth’s Best also refuses to tell me where they source their rice. It can be “anywhere in the world” as long as they meet our “exacting specifications.” I was told to just trust them.

    My son ate the rice cereal as an infant at least twice a day and I’m concerned. He is 4 now and has been diagnosed with autism, developmental delay, and impaired intellectual disability. Neither my family or his father’s have any history of any kind of developmental problems or autism that I know of. Is it possible the rice cereal could have caused these problems to some extent?

    My son also ate rice twice a day and I also put it in his last bottle of a night when he was a baby. He has a speech delay and also cognitive delay

    My son just turned 5 and he ate this rice cereal 3 rimes a day and he has been also diagnosed with ASD he’s nonverbal. Also no autism history in us. What can we do about this?

    I haven’t seen any connection between arsenic – the contaminate in rice – and disorders on the autism spectrum. It has been associated with developmental delays and lower IQs but in those cases a fairly high level of chronic arsenic exposure was measured. I do think consumers should keep pressure on the FDA to broaden the safety standards for arsenic food – infant rice cereal is only one of numerous products which show some levels of arsenic. But in this case I would not assume that rice was the problem and I would definitely not blame my self for feeding rice cereal. The information is only just coming out and the science is fairly new in this regard.

    What about the oatmeal cereal? I am a teacher at a daycare and we give several of our babies oatmeal vestal mixed with their fruit in the mornings.

    I think food manufacturers should be required to include arsenic contents on its ingredients label and nutritional labels. Now I am concerned as a consumer about what other products also contain arsenic that I may be consuming. Having that information on the label would at least allow me to make an informed decision

    In Asia, we eat rice 3-4x a day. No one in the family or relatives have these problems mentioned above. We are all fine.

    The rice collects the arsenic from the soil so different soils would contain different amounts of arsenic. I was told that the US soil has particularly high levels of it. This could explain the difference.

    All four of my children had rice cereal almost daily while on baby food. They all loved it with fruit mixed in. They are all normal as can be ages 29, 25, 22, and 19

    I am wondering if there is a connection with the rice cereal and seizures. After my daughter was old enough I gave her rice cereal about once a day and then when she was almost 11 she started having seizures that can not be explained.

    If it helps, I have not seen any research linking arsenic exposure to seizure. As you know, rice itself is not poisonous. Rice does pick up arsenic out of the soil and water and that is the problem the FDA is exploring here. The tricky thing to figure out, of course, is what kind of rice went into the cereal – for instance, was it grown in a high-arsenic geology area. Having said that, I’ve looked at a lot of studies on arsenic neurotoxicity and I haven’t seen a connection to seizures. I know it’s hard on your daughter thought and I hope she improves.

    Seizures are a sign of a vaccine reaction. There is an explanation but doctors are not educated on vaccines in medical school, nor how to properly screen patients. Seek out a doctor who is knowledgable, file a report with VAERS. Medical exemption would be appropriate to prevent further damage.

    Vaccines are safe. There is NO evidence linking vaccines to autism, seizures, etc. Decades of actual science have demonstrated time and time again that they are safe and effective. With very few exceptions, if you aren’t vaccinating your children, you are endangering public health. Period.

    Go to Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, etc for places with low rates of vaccination to see the consequences. Or ask someone who lived during a time when poliomyelitis was prevalent. Better yet, while we’re at it, let’s halt AIDS vaccine research, because, Dr. Jenny McCarthy!

    The places you mentioned are nor a first or even a second world country, so the amenities that are essential to your everyday life, they don’t have. Clean running Water, essential health-care, vitamins and minerals. Proper ways to clean and expel waste. These contribute to illness far more intense were cleaned up they would have decent chance but instead people want to push vaccines as a Cure All

    Just because people think they are “all saving” that’s what’s wrong. Just because you get a “vaccines” doesn’t mean you still won’t get the disease you are trying to protect your body from. In fact every time you inject your body with a foreign substance it weakens your immune system and you get sick and they get everyone else sick.

    It makes no sense to blame those that chose not to vaccinate, that’s the reason you are sick, get out of here. People purposefully inject themselves with an unknown substance with other harmful chemicals, like formaldehyde and and think that’s healthy.

    How does he flu get passed, because people purposefully inject the flu into their bodies and then the the spores pass from one individual to another from bodily fluids.

    Why not let your body do what it was made to do.

    And if vaccines were safe there wouldn’t be a vaccine injury foundation that rewards families a monetary value for oops we are sorry we messed-up you or your child.

    There are up to 50 injections that happen before the age of 5 that’s double what it was when we were kids. In turn all these new illnesses that you see and hear about manifested and increased because they did not trust for the body to take care of its job. Every illness starts in the gut. Feed it with the good vitamins and minerals, probation, fresh fruits and vegetables. That will help you more along the way then a vaccine will.

    What about organic rice cereal?

    The rice plant takes up naturally occurring arsenic from the soil so it makes no difference whether the farming methods are organic or conventional. The most important factors are geology (high in arsenic), geography, and species of rice plant. It’s worth looking though at the information on this subject put out by one of the big organic rice growers, Lundberg, in California because they’ve tried to be pretty transparent on the issue. http://www.lundberg.com/info/arsenic-in-food/

    My LO had a severe allergic reaction to rice cereal at 6 months old. The allergy type is called FPIES – Food Protein Induced Interocolitis Syndrome. I would not give a baby rice cereal ever again. She was exclusively BF until that day.

    My LO has F-PIES to dairy/milk. Not many people know that term. Just wanted to reach out and say you’re not alone.

    My 8 month old was having FPIES symptoms when introduced to oatmeal. She’s only fed rice cereal as a grain now because of that. This article is concerning. We stick with Gerber brand, with probiotic added.

    Hello what does the reaction look like on your babies? My now 7 month old son bas bizzare red itchy rashes on his cheeks, only left side of his face and on his forehead which becomes very itchy he makes them bleed. It comes and goes out of nowhere so I started thinking it was a food allergy as its only on his face and he has perfect baby skin everywhere else…he is still breastfed but have only given him oatmeal cereal, fruit, veggies and on rare occasions formula if i wasnt around.. thank you for your insight

    Autism has not been linked to vaccines by the FDA. According to them, vaccinations have in no way caused the recent rise in autism and its relevant recent increase. So, for the FDA to take even this relatively modest stance on arsenic in rice cereal, read between the lines…it is probably significantly more dangerous than vaccines!

    The supposed vaccine link to Autism was based on an entirely falsified and rigged study that was done with the purpose of suing pharmaceutical companies and getting rich. Hmm… Funny how the biased liberal media remains mum on this, while its known throughout the medical field.

    Uh vaccines don’t cause autism so yeah they are safer than arsenic containing rice.

    What amount of rice cereal is safe for infants, if any?

    I personally think rice cereal is perfectly acceptable as part of a mixed and balanced diet. As noted in the story, companies like Gerber are already moving to voluntarily comply with the FDA safety standard. Arsenic tends to cycle out of the body after a couple days so if consider it part of a healthy rotation, then the current state of research tells us that you should be fine. If that changes, I’ll report on that here.

    My question is, with the infant rice cereal, how much is too much? Is any amount safe?

    I may be the clear exception to the rule here… But I fed my son rice cereal from the time he was 10 days old. He is 17 1/2 now… 6’1″, an honor roll student, state champion wrestler and has absolutely zero issues at all.

    I am very glad to hear it and other stories like this. The fact is that we’re just starting to figure out when and how rice poses a risk. The important point in this FDA action is mostly that it’s a big pay-attention flag as regulators try to figure out a safe level for everyone. As always chronic exposures will affect different people – and populations – in different ways so the trick is figuring out who is most at risk. At that’s usually a small vulnerable subset but that still matters.

    Thanks for the news too late. Gave this to my kids almost every day as an infant. My son has the autism spectrum disorder.

    We did rice at night and my son has autism. :(

    There is no evidence linking arsenic exposure – rice is just a vehicle for that – to autism. I hope you find this reassuring.

    I seriously just started to add rice to my daughter’s formula cuz our doctor said it would help weigh it down to help with her acid reflux. Now I’m paranoid to add it. Is oatmeal an okay substitute?? She’s two months old. If not, what is!?!?

    Please do not give any solids to your baby at all! Babies do not need anything except breast milk or formula until a minimum of six months of age. Your babies reflux is most likely being caused by either their formula (the iron) or a tongue/lip tie. Giving your baby rice cereal will only make their symptoms worse. And adding rice cereal to a bottle is a choking hazard. Please research open/virgin gut, baby led weaning and tongue/lip ties. Babies rarely ever just have reflux. Unfortunately, most doctors are woefully outdated on infant nutrition. Check out what the American academy of pediatrics (aap) and the world health organization (who) have to say about it.

    Emily unless your child has had severe reflux please do not advise here. My doctor advised the same for both my children however we chose to do simply thick a gel thickener for our children to help keep the food down. Both of my children had severe food allergies and severe reflux and one was breast fed and one was on formula until we ended up on prescription formula on both cases. Speaking from heavy experience, Reflux is most certainly not always their food or the tongue issue.

    I will have to agree with Emily on this. My son also had severe reflux, my Ped suggested Zantac but said not to give him cereal in a bottle ever, she said that info was out of date and could be potentially dangerous. We also had an infant nutritionist and food therapist who both advised us to skip rice cereal completely since it has very little nutritional value, and high levels of arsnic.

    I gave cereal to BOTH my daughters before they were a month old. If you hold them and feed them instead of doing it the lazy way, you can monitor the choking/ gagging better.

    They are learning to feed. They are going to have those responses. My grandchildren also ate cereal before they were 2 months.. they were way more content and not as hungry as often and slept better.

    To each her own. Your baby will tell you if the milk alone is satisifying them. Go for the oatmeal if your scared of rice… just don’t make it thick. Start light and quit worrying over what society tells you NOT to do.

    I’m pretty sure my grandmother of 7 went by feel.

    It’s not “society”, it’s science. People who have actually done research and shared their data so we can make better decisions on how to feed our children so they don’t get sick. It has nothing to do with “feelings”.

    Emily thanks for posting an educated and fact based response. Sone people wrongly believe their pediatrician actually stays up to date on current studies and research. As a society we are not good about placing proper emphasis on the importance of nutrition- in infants and throughout our lives. Oh and yes- putting any kind of cereal in a bottle is absolutely a choking hazard. But hey- your kid- not mine. To each his own!

    I would try a different formula for sensitive tummies or reflux. Similac offers a tummy care program and will refund you to try a different line until you find one that works for your babe. our pediatrician advised to only feed milk until 6 months and then introduce oatmeal instead of rice cereal, particularly because the rice cereal doesn’t really have any nutritional value. It is just empty calories. I would try the chiropractor for help with the reflux. Sounds silly and I wasn’t a believer but it has helped my baby sleep better, eat better and is all over happier. I know it can help with reflux too. Good luck to you!

    I was told by our pediatrician that AAP has actually started recommending oatmeal instead of rice for thickening formula for infants with reflux. I have not confirmed this though. We thickened our son’s formula with rice(per our pediatrician), for 3 days, and it caused him horrible belly aches. Now they are looking into EoE. When you have a kiddo that has horrible reflux and is Failure to Thrive, you are willing to do anything to keep food in your infants tummy. And we are a food allergy family and we adamantly push for no food before 6 months old, because it increases the risk for food allergies. But sometimes you go against your standards because circumstances are different. I used to against cereal in bottles, for anyone, but there are extenuating circumstances. Don’t knock what you don’t understand. Do your own research and form an opinion for yourself. Remember though, not everything you read is true, accurate, and trustworthy. (Not that this article is untrue, just do your research.)

    If it’s so dangerous why is allowed to be sold? Why hasn’t it been taken of the shelf? My paediatrician told us to use rice cereal as a thickener in our babes formula because he had awful reflux and weight was an issue so he couldn’t afford to lose weight.
    So again, if it is dangerous to our children why the hell are these companies allows to have it on the shelf

    Because arsenic is a naturally occurring element and because we’ve only recently developed the tools to measure it at these part-per-billion levels – and to realize that the compound can be harmful at these levels – governments are just now playing catch up on regulation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set a safety level for arsenic in drinking water (10 ppb) more than a decade ago but the FDA is just starting to sift through the safety levels now.

    Brittany u can also use oatmeal as well.. my son had the same problem with reflux and weight gain he has been on oatmeal cereal since he was 2 weeks old he is now 6 months and doing great our doc actually recommended it and not the rice..

    Yes, Oatmeal is fine I curre tly use this for my 6 mth old since he was 2mths old he had severe reflux.

    My son is 2 1/, when he was an infant i added rice cereal to every bottle because he spit up a lot so that’s what the drs advised me to do. Now he is behind on speech can all the rice consumption be the blame of it?

    I haven’t seen anything that suggests that arsenic plays a role in delayed speech and I hope you find that reassuring. There is a body of evidence, as the FDA mentioned, that does suggest a role in cognitive development and most of the studies I’ve looked at suggest other issues when there is an arsenic effect, such as delayed cognitive development or IQ effects. You’ll find a reasonable summary of that here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221499961400304X. The amount of arsenic in rice varies considerably according to species and where it was grown so it may well be that your son did not receive too high an exposure and I hope you find that reassuring as well. I hope he does increasingly well as time goes on.

    My husband and his family grew up in Asia and ate rice for every meal. They are very intelligent. My husband was in AP classes in high school and is now a software developer. My mother- in-law is a linguist and copy editor. They have no cognitive delays or health issues.

    Your son most likely has a tongue tie which can cause reflux in infants and speech delays later down the road.

    Emily as a speech language pathologist, I can assure you that tongue ties most assuredly do not contribute to reflux and 99 times out a 100 cause NO adverse outcomes in speech sound development. Please don’t spew false information on a site where mothers and fathers are looking for honest answers, not paranoia.

    So glad to see this my son has multiple food allergies and rice is one so i weaned him with quinoa and hemp milk

    Glad to hear that turned out so well. And thanks for sharing. I think lots of people are looking for good alternatives at the moment.

    How did you know he had a rice allergy? Everything I feed my 6 month old rice cereal she ends up with a rash.

    What about Gerber whole wheat cereal?

    I think you’d be fine with Gerber whole wheat cereal. The brand is not really the issue, if it’s helpful. Gerber responded publicly because the company is such a large provider of infant rice cereal and other rice-enriched products. But the focus is purely on that aspect. While the rice plant is very good at extracting arsenic from soil and water, the wheat plant is not so you will find far less of the element in wheat products.

    Babies can’t digest grains until at least a year old and by then they should be eating table food so beat to avoid all grain based cereals. In fact, babies don’t NEED to eat puréed food at all. They actually learn to eat better without it. Look into baby led weaning.

    Emily your advice seems a bit immature when it comes to feeding children. Do you even realize when our parents and grandparents and even great grandparents were babies they were fed cereal and even table food before a year old. No allergies, feeding issues, reflux or autism were heard of back then the way it is now. Before you panic these already frightened new parents please research the facts. Most infants can eat cereal before 6 months with no problems and can eat table food after that with no problems. The rice cereal has bee eaten for many many years without any developmental issues. They are just letting the public know new findings and adjusting for the small population of infants that have genetic markers that cannot handle the current amount of arsenic in rice. I have 23 years of childcare experience as well as my own 10 year old son and he was fed rice cereal and lots of table food before a year and is smart and has been in the top 75-100% for height and weight all his life as compared to those who only have breast milk and formula and most are underweight and susceptible to illness bc of that.

    I have been giving my 7th month old Enfamil AR formula. This formula is thickened with rice starch. Is there risk of arsenic exposure for my baby?

    There is some research showing that the use of rice starch in baby food products can add arsenic into the mix, for instance, this study from Dartmouth College: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3371583/. But in most cases that amount would be less than the 100 parts-per-billion safety level that the FDA is discussing for rice cereal. So I wouldn’t worry over much. If you want to avoid arsenic in the formula as much as possible, I believe some companies, like Nature One, are now testing for the toxic substance.

    What about multigrain cereal?

    I think multi-grain cereal is a healthy choice and an easy way to get some good variety. I’d still read the label to see what grains are in the mix. But that’s partly because years as a chemistry/toxicology focused journalist has made me a dedicated label reader not because I think there’s anything serious to worry about with this choice.

    Congratulations. You have single handily manage to tarnish the rice industry by using irresponsible scare tactics based on inadequate proven
    scientific research data. By the readers comments you’ve opened Pabdora’s box to all the hysterics out there looking to blame anything and everything possibly wrong in their own or their child’s life because they consumed a rice based food. Enough with you expousing useless information.
    I have a solution to all the worry warts. Just stop drinking and eating anything and you’ll be able to avoid oral based theoretical risks and sleep better from less worry.

    Let’s get real people.

    If anything, I find this article to prove that we should pay attention to what products we use. Research any foods you and your family eat. I fully believe, that as Americans made their lives easier by purchasing already made foods instead of making it themselves, we have opened the door to companies cutting corners and using anything to make it cheaper. That can mean anything from using fields that haven’t had time to return to a neutral growing medium, to adding fillers (that may or may not be dangerous) to stretch out their products.
    And besides that Gerber has even admitted to the levels of arsenic in their rice, so I don’t see how this writer is doing anything the rice industry isn’t already doing. I appreciate articles like these. Most of these ready made foods have been around for less than 100 years, it’s about time someone looked into the effects they are having on consumers, they sure as heck didn’t check before they released their products.
    Thank you Deborah for your information.

    Yes, the most important thing is be an informed consumer, not a panicked consumer, but one who sorts through the information and makes a common sense decision about risk.

    I rarely reply to comments of this nature, but feel consumers not only need, but also desire, well researched, credible, and non-biased scientific reporting. Ms. Blum is a Pulitzer-Prize winning scientific journalist. Credentials themselves do not necessarily ensure the non-espousal of “useless information,” or the use of “irresponsible scare tactics based on inadequate(ly) proven scientific research data.” However, this article cites the FDA’S own published warning, a Consumer Reports study of which data analysis was led by Richard Stahlhut, M.D., M.P.H., an environmental health researcher at the University of Rochester, who is experienced in NHANES analysis, and Ana Navas-Acien, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-epidemiologist with expertise in arsenic research at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a PLoS One study with research conducted by Joshua Hamilton, a senior toxicologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachuetts, and Courtney Kozal-Horvath of Dartmouth College’s medical school. Although it is opinion, however I feel comfortable in saying these are credible resources and most likely did not rely on junk science.

    I felt Ms. Blum’s article was extremely well researched and was further supported with additional references in her comments. While I believe it is your right to dismiss the information and even to advise others to do so, I also believe an attempt to discredit a soundly written article is irresponsible and ignorant. We are often fed “safety” studies which are performed by those whom have a vested interest in the profitability of the product which is being researched. It is refreshing to find a source of information that is concise, plainly written, and factual.

    And what about all the pregnant women and the infants in Asia where 90% of the world’s rice is consumed?

    Yes, I’ve recently seen a few studies out of India looking at the connection between rice consumption and health that show that there is concern about this there too. In fact, India has developed a genetically-modified rice to try to reduce exposure: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/Low-arsenic-rice-grain-from-NBRI/articleshow/51591807.cms And China was actually the first country in the world to set an arsenic safety standard for rice – pretty much what the FDA is proposing here for infant cereal. So we are very much not alone in worrying about this.

    The arsenic is mainly from rice grown in old cotton fields. The pesticides used to prevent the boll weevil had arsenic in them and it seeped into the soil. The rice was then planted in the abandoned cotton fields and absorbed the arsenic in the soil. That’s why certain types of rice and that which is grown in certain locations have lower levels of arsenic. Rice from southern states is the most contaminated. Also brown rice is worse than white rice because a larger amount is concentrated in the husk of the rice grain.


    Do you know if this presence of arsenic would have been less, greater or the same in these rice cereals, say about 30 years ago?

    That’s a really interesting question. It would again, I think, depend on the area. For instance, there’s an argument suggesting rice grown in the American Southeast show higher arsenic levels because the farmers use old cotton fields, which were once soaked with arsenic-based pesticides. As in this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1892142/ You might expect there that years of plant uptake and irrigation would reduce those levels. In areas with high levels of naturally occurring arsenic bedrock, I think it might stay at more consistent levels. But I’ll look into that further

    WIC programs MUST change the menu.

    WIC participants have the option of rice, oatmeal or barley cereals. Not rice only. The problem is that often rice is the only option at the stores.

    Yes, I think this should be taken as a strong public health reminder that all government agencies should advocate for a varied diet. It’s actually a very commonsense approach.

    Good reporting as always Deborah! Glad to see this is getting some attention.

    What is the rice cereal is organic, is there still a concern?

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t make any difference if the rice is grown organically or conventionally. It’s just the basic design of the plant – it transports arsenic out of the soil without any help from the farmer. (You’ll see a link in the story to a study showing high arsenic contamination in organic brown rice products). The key question at this point seems to be where the rice is grown – if there’s little naturally occurring arsenic in soil or water, then you see less arsenic in the rice. California rice, for instance, tends to have less arsenic than that grown in parts of the Southeast.

    Would it be safer to switch to oatmeal cereal for my son?

    I think oatmeal is a good alternative (it’s a much less arsenic friendly grain than rice) and I know a number of arsenic researchers who have made that choice. But mostly I think it makes sense to eat/serve a variety of grains, including enjoying rice on occasion.

    Does this include the plastic containers of Gerber rice cereal? And why the hell is there arsenic in it!? How disgusting! And they can legally sell that!? I’m sorry but that sounds to me like they are trying to control population or something! How horrible!!

    It’s only been in the last decade or so that researchers have begun to appreciate the problem of arsenic in the food and water supply. And that’s largely because our ability to measure it at the part-per-billion level is fairly recent. The EPA dropped the safe drinking water standard for arsenic down from 50 ppb to 10 ppb during the George W. Bush presidency as evidence accumulated on the risks. This isn’t just Gerber, it’s really all rice products. The real issue is that the FDA, at this point, is still figuring out how to regulate arsenic for safety reasons and they aren’t there yet.

    I fed my son rice cereal, he had develpoed some learning disabilities, he is 10 and the struggles are worsening. Could this be the cause. The schools have now diagnosed him ADD

    I want to be reassuring on this point. I haven’t seen anything that links arsenic to ADD or other such behavioral cognitive issues. If you look at the review here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221499961400304X you’ll see that the cognitive issues seem to be associating more with memory and learning effects. And there are so many other issues that influence ADD; I’d let myself relax on this one.

    From what I’ve found and experienced, ADD’s General cause is genetic so it’s not likely this is a source of that. There are things that will magnify the effect though. In my experience it’s mostly a short term effect.

    I ate a lot of rice when I was pregnant. My son was born 15 weeks early. I can’t help but wonder if the rice caused it.

    There is some evidence linking arsenic exposure to premature delivery, as you’ll see in this brief summary report here: http://sph.unc.edu/global-health/ggg-arsenic-exposure/. But there’s so many factors – biological, developmental, environmental – that affect this kind of outcome and we don’t really know how that it’s really hard to tell, especially retrospectively, that it’s really hard to tell. I definitely wouldn’t be hard on myself for eating rice, which is a recommended food, and may or may not have been a factor. Just use the knowledge going forward. I hope your son is thriving today.

    According to published studies, brown rice has higher average total arsenic concentrations than white rice and basmati rice grown in California has the lowest average concentrations of total arsenic in brown or white rice.

    Yes, brown rice tends to higher in arsenic because the toxic element deposits in the bran and outer husk, which are usually polished off in the processing of white rice. (I’ve always thought that was unfair because those are the parts of the grain considered to contain the most nutrition but it’s just a matter of the way the plant stores the material). Basmatic rice, in general, tends to pull less arsenic out of the soil than many other rice species. And you are right that California rice tends to be lower in arsenic than that grown in other parts of the country, mostly because of geology although some suspect old arsenic pesticide residues in areas where cotton used to be grown. There are other areas that have low-arsenic geology though – Himalayan basmatic has been widely recommended to me by scientists studying the issue.

    I think that this explanation of why rice accumulates arsenic is a good one that can convey the information to the public; http://www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/assets/pdf/arsenic_in_rice_fact_sheet.pdf from the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program:
    “The relatively high levels of arsenic in rice are due to: (1) The mobilization and bioavailability of arsenic in the soil that occurs when farmers flood rice fields; and (2) the plant’s uptake of arsenic instead of silicon, which the plant uses under normal conditions to strengthen its stems and husks.
    Arsenic and silicon are chemically similar under the soil conditions found in flooded rice paddies; as a result, arsenic fits into the plant’s silicon transporters.
    As the rice plant grows, the plant integrates arsenic (instead of silicon) into the grain
    —the part of the rice plant we eat.”
    More information at the link.

    An example of another plant which uses silica in cell walls for strengthening with which many people may be familiar with is Horsetail, sometimes called scouring rush.

    Thanks, yes, excellent explanation. Dartmouth has done some really excellent work in this area, both in studying plant physiology and in looking at the public health risks of arsenic for mothers and children. It’s also worth checking out their other backgrounders here: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/arsenic/

    The FDA action was strictly about rice products. That’s because research has shown that overall, rice plants take up around ten times – and sometimes more – elemental arsenic as any other grain. All plants have a transport system to pull water and nutrients up for the soil and the transport system in rice just seems to have an especially effective way of picking up metallic elements. Scientists are looking at both genetic modification and selective breeding to reduce the problem.

    Many rice researchers I know do now preferentially serve oatmeal to their children. But the basic message – a varied diet, a mix of grains (including rice) – is exactly right. The concern is daily exposure not occasional. Hope this is helpful.

    Does this include baby oatmeal?

    Oatmeal was not a part of the original Consumer Reports study.http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm

    Does this included all rice cereal products, I noticed in the article it said “The gerber family”.

    Yes, Gerber was the first baby/toddler food maker to publicly respond and the company wrote a letter to consumers, describing them as members of the family. But this refers to all rice cereal products for children, whether brand name or generic. There is no established safety standard in place yet, just an advisory guideline, which one reason that federal authorities are advising parents to not rely exclusively on rice products when feeding their children.

    The FDA action was strictly about rice products. That’s because research has shown that overall, rice plants take up around ten times – and sometimes more – elemental arsenic as any other grain. All plants have a transport system to pull water and nutrients up for the soil and the transport system in rice just seems to have an especially effective way of picking up metallic elements. Scientists are looking at both genetic modification and selective breeding to reduce the problem.

    Many rice researchers I know do now preferentially serve oatmeal to their children. But the basic message – a varied diet, a mix of grains (including rice) – is exactly right. The concern is daily exposure not occasional. Hope this is helpful.

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