By Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune reporter
11:40 PM EDT, September 19, 2012
New reports that rice products may contain "worrisome levels" of carcinogenic arsenic — especially from rice grown in certain states — have American pediatricians offering new advice for parents feeding children.
"I think a prudent position for the next few months or years ... is that parents avoid rice or at least avoid any rice that comes from Texas, Louisiana or Missouri, and when in doubt go with barley or oatmeal," Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital School of Medicine, said on CBS' "This Morning."
Dr. Frank Greer, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and its former committee chairman on nutrition, was a little more conservative, noting that "we don't really know what the arsenic content of food really means at this point."
Still, he said, the reports would lead him to modify his advice to parents. Consumer Reports, which on Wednesday announced results of its testing on rice products, suggested limiting servings to children to a little more than a quarter cup of uncooked rice a week.
"If I were a concerned parent, I would go with that," Greer said, adding that the pediatrics academy has been "trying to move people away from the use of rice cereal for the first weaning food in general because it does not really provide that much nutrition."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is conducting research on arsenic and rice, said it is finding an average of 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms of inorganic arsenic in a serving of rice or rice product — consistent with the levels found by Consumer Reports.
Currently, there is no federal maximum on arsenic in food. The FDA said it hopes to complete its assessment by the end of the year to set science-based limits.
"It is critical to not get ahead of the science," FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor said. "The FDA's ongoing data collection and other assessments will give us a solid scientific basis for determining what action levels and/or other steps are needed to reduce exposure to arsenic in rice and rice products."
The Consumer Reports data indicate that brown rice, which retains the outer bran, can carry higher levels of arsenic. It also suggests that rice from Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas generally contains higher levels of total and inorganic arsenic than rice samples from India, Thailand and California.
The geographical differences may be linked to the historical use of lead arsenate as a pesticide in certain areas, according to Consumer Reports senior scientist Michael Hansen. He also cited the more recent use of chicken waste as a rice crop fertilizer, as feeding chickens arsenic for growth promotion and feed efficiency can leave inorganic arsenic in their waste.
On Wednesday, Gerber Foods said in a statement that it had "decided to exclusively use California rice in the production of our rice-containing infant nutrition products … because California rice has the lowest naturally occurring arsenic levels for rice grown in the United States."
As part of its rice report, Consumer Reports offered specific recommendations to reduce arsenic exposure. They include:
• Limiting children to about a quarter cup of uncooked rice per week and adults to a half-cup.
• Rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking.
• Cooking rice in a manner similar to pasta: using six cups of water per one cup of rice and pouring off the excess water after it's cooked. (This works better with brown rice than with white.)
• Clean vegetables, especially potato skins, thoroughly.
• Limit consumption of other foods that can contain significant arsenic, including apple and grape juice.
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