Fruit juice

Amid growing concerns about arsenic in apple juice, some consumer groups are advising parents to dilute their juice, vary the brands they serve and limit children's juice consumption. (Heather Charles/Chicago Tribune)

This was welcome news to Urvashi Rangan, director of safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports.

"They have certainly done a lot of thinking at the agency since they came out with their statement in September," Rangan said. "We are encouraged by this. And I think they are coming around to acknowledging the fact that this is an issue they need to look at more closely."

The Empire State Consumer Project and Food and Water Watch are joining Consumers Union in the call for stricter standards.

Although recent testing has focused on apple juice, the FDA says it will soon expand its testing to other juices as well. The latest Consumer Reports study found that grape juice actually contained higher levels of arsenic than apple juice.

Pediatricians who specialize in environmental health expressed some concern Thursday over arsenic levels found in juice and sympathized with concerned parents.

"In general we want to reduce kids exposures to anything toxic," said pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, who wrote "The Happiest Baby on the Block" and serves on the board of the Environmental Working Group.

But Karp and other child health advocates say juice's sugar content is more alarming.

"Children do not need any juice whatsoever," said Jerome Paulson, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics' council on environmental health. "If you look at the nutrition levels on juice and soda, with the exception of some vitamins they are identical. Most parents would not countenance giving their kids soda every day, but they do give them juice every day. Kids need fruits and vegetable, not juice. Don't drink an apple. Eat an apple."

Juice is seen as more risky than raw apples because arsenic can be concentrated in juice.

Another reason for concern about apple juice is the high percentage of imported juice coming into the U.S. food supply. Food and Water Watch estimates that 70 percent of American apple juice came from China by 2009.

The FDA said that in July it "issued an Import Bulletin to significantly increase the number of juice products sampled and analyzed for arsenic under the Toxic Elements program."

meng@tribune.com

Twitter: @monicaeng