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Q.  What should I know about arsenic and food?

Lotus Foods FAQs on Arsenic & Rice
About these FAQs

Rice is comprised of many elements that contribute to human health. But like with any plant, the presence and balance of those elements depends on the quality of the soil, air and water in which the plant is grown. Too little or too much of certain elements can negatively affect human and animal health. This seems to be the case with arsenic. We do not profess to be experts on this subject. So we have consulted some experts and expert sources, and would like to share our findings. We encourage you to conduct your own investigations but our interpretation of the literature is that our customers can eat Lotus Foods rice every day if they so choose, and feel confident that based on best current knowledge they are eating a healthy food. Professor John Duxbury, a well-known expert on arsenic in rice at Cornell University, reviewed these FAQs. We will continue to follow this issue closely and apprise you of any important new developments.

Where we looked for information

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization maintain a joint international expert scientific committee called the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). The goal of the committee is to develop food standards and guidelines to protect the health of consumers. Arsenic in food and water has been extensively studied, with standards set and often revisited over the years. In March 2011 the committee conducted a comprehensive review of current global knowledge, with the intent of determining the feasibility of setting maximum levels for arsenic in rice. The committee’s "Discussion Paper on Arsenic in Rice" was used as a primary resource for these FAQs. Page numbers are provided to direct readers to the relevant research and discussion, and a link to the Discussion Paper, which includes an extensive bibliography, is provided below.

What is arsenic?

Arsenic (As) is an element in the environment that is found naturally in rocks and soil, water, air, and in plants and animals. It can also be released into the environment from some agricultural (e.g. pesticides) and industrial sources (e.g., pressure-treated lumber for non-residential use). We normally take in small amounts of arsenic in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Arsenic is found in many food products including rice, seafood, poultry, juices, coffee, beer, cheese, vegetables, mushrooms, bread and chocolate.

Why be concerned about arsenic?

Researchers refer to ‘species’ of arsenic, which can be in either organic or inorganic forms. Generally, the inorganic forms are considered to be more toxic as studies show that acute short-term or chronic long-term exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic can cause adverse cancerous and non-cancerous effects. The main factors influencing dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic are the water supply, types of foods consumed and food preparation methods.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Position

The FDA has done extensive testing of arsenic in rice. In September 2013, after analyzing some 1300 samples of rice grains and rice-based food for total and inorganic arsenic, they concluded that the amounts of detectable arsenic are not high enough to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects.http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm319870.htm

So how do Lotus Foods rices compare to other rice?

Compared with the results for the 1300 rices tested by FDA and with the results for rice tested by Consumer Reports in their independent investigation, Lotus Foods rices have among the lowest levels of total arsenic of any rice on the market, and in some cases the lowest levels.

How does arsenic get into rice?

What elevates arsenic in rice is that it is generally grown submerged in water, so arsenic in both the soil and water can increase concentrations in the rice plant. Other food crops are not grown under flooded conditions and soils are aerobic with plenty of oxygen around the root system. Arsenic is thus locked in the soil and doesn’t get into the plants to such an extent as rice grown under flooded conditions. Research shows that the total arsenic content in rice plants is correlated to the degree of arsenic contamination of irrigation water and soil. None of the regions where Lotus Foods rice is grown have any known arsenic contamination.

Growing rice aerobically can considerably decrease the arsenic transfer from soil to grain. In one greenhouse experiment, arsenic concentrations in grain were 10−15-fold higher in flooded than in aerobically grown rice. This is one of the many reasons Lotus Foods works with farmers who use More Crop Per Drop™ methods, known globally as SRI (system of rice intensification). Farmers do not keep their fields continuously flooded but maintain mostly aerobic soil conditions, as one would for wheat or corn. A recent paper that reviewed the literature related to arsenic contamination of rice identified SRI as a promising strategy to reduce levels of arsenic in rice grain without loses in productivity.

What are tolerable or safe levels?

The US regulates total arsenic in drinking water (0.01 mg/liter or 10 ppb) but it does not have standards for total or inorganic arsenic in food or rice. California’s Proposition 65 recommends consuming no more than 10 micrograms (0.01 mg) of inorganic arsenic a day. What does that mean? Here is an example: Mekong Flower Brown Jasmine tested 0.087 ppm for inorganic arsenic. This is the same as 0.087 mcg/gm. This means you would need to consume 114 gm of rice to reach the daily limit. That would be more than two servings of dry rice at 45 gm per serving or several cups of cooked rice.

The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), which has been studying arsenic in food for many years, adopted a maximum acceptable level of inorganic arsenic in white rice of 200 parts per billion (ppb) in July 2014. All Lotus Foods rices are below this international standard.

Cooking reduces arsenic

Different food preparation methods such as rinsing, steaming and cooking reduce arsenic content. In one study, washing with uncontaminated water and cooking reduced arsenic content by 7.1-20.6% (Sun et al.). Another study found that washing or soaking rice and then discarding the water before cooking is effective at reducing arsenic levels, especially inorganic forms. Experiments with high-volume water rice cooking of long-grain and basmati rice (using 1 rice:6 water ratio) effectively removed both total and inorganic arsenic by 35% and 45%, respectively.

Bioaccessibility

It is important to note that the health risk induced by presence of arsenic in food also depends on its release from the food matrix, i.e., its bioaccessibility in your body. Arsenic bioaccessibility of cooked rice in the small intestine ranges between 38 and 57% (Sun et al.). Thus, not all of the arsenic ingested is used by the body.

What does all this mean for how much Lotus Foods rice I can eat?

You can easily enjoy one or more servings of Lotus Foods rice every day without any concern about adverse effects from arsenic. You may wish to review other foods and beverages you are consuming to determine a more complete idea of how much arsenic you may be getting through your diet.

Sources and Further Reading

Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods, 5th Session, The Hague, The Netherlands, 21 – 25 March 2011. Discussion Paper on Arsenic in Rice (Prepared By The Electronic Working Group Led By China). ftp://ftp.fao.org/codex/meetings/cccf/cccf5/cf05_10e.pdf

Note: : This Discussion Paper summarizes the status of research around the world as it relates to rice and arsenic.

Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods Sixth Session, Maastricht, The Netherlands, 26 – 30 March 2012 PROPOSED DRAFT MAXIMUM LEVELS FOR ARSENIC IN RICEftp://ftp.fao.org/codex/meetings/cccf/cccf6/cf06_08e.pdf

Guo-Xin Suna, Tom Van de Wieleb, Pradeep Alavac, Filip Tackc, Gijs Du Laing.c, Arsenic in cooked rice: Effect of chemical, enzymatic and microbial processes on bioaccessibility and speciation in the human gastrointestinal tract Environ Pollut. 2012 Mar;162:241-6. Epub 2011 Dec 13.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22243870

Senanayakea, Nari, and Aditi Mukherjib. 2014. Irrigating with arsenic contaminated groundwater in West Bengal and Bangladesh: A review of interventions for mitigating adverse health and crop outcomes. Agricultural Water Management 135(31): 90-99. doi: 10.1016/j.agwat.2013.12.015