Some infant formula and cereal bars sweetened with organic brown-rice syrup contain traces of arsenic, according to a report published on Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
“There is an urgent need for regulatory limits on arsenic in food,” the report concludes. There are currently no U.S. regulations applicable to arsenic in food, according to the report. Arsenic is an established carcinogen, and because of their low body weight infants are particularly vulnerable, the report says.
Brian Jackson of Dartmouth College and colleagues tested 17 infant formulas and found that one of the two formulas that listed organic brown-rice syrup as a primary ingredient had a total arsenic concentration six times the federal limit for arsenic in drinking water. Both had a higher arsenic concentration than the drinking water standard, the report says.
Cereal bars that listed at least one rice product like brown-rice syrup or rice flour among their top five ingredients were more likely to contain arsenic, the researchers found. The team tested 29 cereal bars and found that the 22 bars containing rice had arsenic concentrations ranging from 23 to 128 parts per billion. The federal limit for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion.
The team also found high levels of arsenic in two high-energy gel products.
“In the absence of regulations for levels of arsenic in food, I would certainly advise parents who are concerned about their children's exposure to arsenic not to feed them formula where brown-rice syrup is the main ingredient,” the report's lead author told Consumer Reports.
The researchers hypothesized that foods containing rice would have higher arsenic levels because rice plants absorb naturally occurring arsenic in the soil.