The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to reduce inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal, a leading source of arsenic exposure in infants.
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Relative to body weight, rice intake for infants, primarily through infant rice cereal, is about three times greater than for adults.
Moreover, national intake data show that people consume the most rice (relative to their weight) at approximately 8 months of age.
Through a draft guidance to industry, the FDA is proposing a limit or "action level" of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal.
Published studies, including new research by the FDA, indicate that cooking rice in excess water (from six to 10 parts water to one part rice), and draining the excess water, can reduce from 40 to 60 percent of the inorganic arsenic content, depending on the type of rice – although this method may also remove some key nutrients.
This is parallel to the level set by the European Commission (EC) for rice intended for the production of food for infants and young children.
The EC standard concerns the rice itself; the FDA's proposed guidance sets a draft level for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. FDA testing found that the majority of infant rice cereal currently on the market either meets, or is close to, the proposed action level.
The agency expects manufacturers can produce infant rice cereal that meet or are below the proposed limit with the use of good manufacturing practices, such as sourcing rice with lower inorganic arsenic levels. The FDA takes an action level into account when considering an enforcement action.
The FDA continues to advise all consumers to eat a well-balanced diet for good nutrition and to minimize potential adverse consequences from consuming an excess of any one food.
The agency is not advising the general population of consumers to change their current rice consumption patterns based on the presence of arsenic, but is providing targeted information for pregnant women and infants to help reduce exposure.
The agency recognizes that infant rice cereal is a common "starter" food for infants and notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically encourages consumption of iron-fortified cereals for infants and toddlers. ■