Arsenic in rice

rice in bowl
The FSA is contributing to discussions in Europe to set limits for inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products. The limits are close to being agreed, and we expect them to apply from mid-next year.

Arsenic is naturally present in the environment, which means it gets into food and water with levels varying in different regions of the world. It’s impossible to eliminate it from food, however, having too much arsenic in our diet could be harmful to health.

Rice tends to take up more arsenic from the environment than other cereal crops, although this can vary according to variety and method of production. The arsenic in rice also tends to be predominately the more toxic inorganic form, which has the potential to increase risk of illnesses including cancer.

What is being done to tackle this issue?

There are international efforts to better understand this and develop of code of practice that can be employed by producing countries to mitigate levels of arsenic in rice.

  • The FSA supports setting EU maximum limits for inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products. We now have systems available in official labs which will mean that products can be checked to ensure they meet the rules.
  • The FSA is working hard in Europe on behalf of the UK to ensure that effective, proportionate and enforceable EU maximum limits for arsenic in rice are agreed as soon as possible; that more stringent limits are put in place for rice and rice products for infants and young children; and that these will be subject to regular review. The limits are close to being agreed, and we expect them to apply from mid-next year.
  • EU maximum limits for environmental contaminants are reviewed on a regular basis and are subject to future revision to take account of the latest evidence and data – therefore there may be scope to reduce them further in due course.
  • It is the responsibility of manufacturers to ensure that the food they produce is as low as reasonably achievable in regard to arsenic. This will still be the case once maximum limits are in place.
  • The Codex (Alimentarius) Committee on Contaminants in Food is compiling a Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Arsenic Contamination in Rice, for rice producers to use to control levels. The FSA has ensured that UK experts have an opportunity to influence the drafting of this document.
  • The FSA is carrying out a survey on infant foods, and this will include looking at the exposure of infants to rice products and arsenic in the UK. It’s likely to be published in the new year, and the FSA will consider whether the results indicate any further risk management action specific to the UK is required to compliment the EU maximum limits.

Advice on the consumption of rice drinks

We advise that toddlers and young children (ages 1 - 4.5 years) should not be given rice drinks as a substitute for breast milk, infant formula or cows’ milk. This is because of their proportionally higher milk consumption and lower bodyweights compared to other consumers.  

There are a number of alternatives to suit those with an allergy or intolerance to cows’ milk or soya. Advice should be sought from a health professional (such as a doctor or dietician) to ensure a suitable milk alternative is sought for a healthy and balanced diet.

For all other consumers of rice drink there is no need to change their diet.

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