Arsenic in rice

Last updated:
25 February 2016
rice in bowl
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?

The following:

  • The European Commission introduced maximum limits in 2015, for inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products. The legal limits apply from January 2016. The FSA worked hard in Europe to ensure that strict limits were in put in place for rice and rice products intended for infants and young children.
  • There are also international efforts to better understand this. 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 experts have an opportunity to influence the drafting of this document.
  • 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 FSA is carrying out a survey on of metals and other elements in infant foods; the results will be used to look at the exposure of infants to rice products and arsenic. The FSA will consider whether the results indicate any further risk management action is required to compliment the EU maximum limits.

Advice on the consumption of rice drinks

We advise that toddlers and young children (ages 1 to 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 bodyweight 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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