H-HEALTH NEWS

Sep 19, 2012 11:55 AM by NBC News

New test shows popular rice products contain a chemical linked to cancer

A consumer alert for everyone who eats rice or rice products.

A new test out shows popular rice products contain arsenic, a chemical linked to cancer.

Some experts say the levels are troubling and consumers may be at risk.

From babies eating rice cereal to kids and their rice krispies, whole grain, long grain or plain white... rice is a staple, but this morning, Consumer Reports released a new alert finding elevated levels of arsenic in rice.

"Well, we actually are quite concerned by the findings," said Urvashi Rangan, a scientist who ran the study for Consumer Reports.

She tested more than 200 samples of the most popular brands such as Uncle Bens, Goya, Kellogg's, Earth's Best Organic and Gerber. She said all had worrisome levels of arsenic. "This isn't a matter of trace amounts. These are moderate to moderately high levels of arsenic."

A concern, she said, especially for kids. "We think children should consume even less because they are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of arsenic."

While the health effects of arsenic in food are still unknown, researchers say at high levels arsenic, over time, can cause cancer.

"This is a known carcinogen linked to several types of cancer including lung cancer, skin cancer and and bladder cancer," said Keeve Nachman, a food safety scientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

So, how does arsenic get into rice in the first place? Arsenic is naturally-occuring in the soil. Rice is grown in wet fields, which makes it easier for rice to absorb the arsenic, but levels have climbed over the years thanks to fertilizers containing arsenic.

Still, some public health experts do not believe there is cause for alarm and the rice industry insists its food is safe.

"We have not seen any established health concerns that can be pointed to, as a result of people eating rice," said Ann Banville of the USA Rice Federation. "Until there is, what do people base their-- their actions on? They can only go with what they know and what we do know is that rice is a nutritious and healthy food," she added.

Gerber told NBC News it checks for arsenic and now only uses rice from regions with the lowest levels.

Other companies said while they have not seen the test results, arsenic is in many foods and there's no evidence rice is harmful.

"Well, I think we can agree that rice is a healthy nutritional source of food and a lot of people eat it and rely on it. I think where we would disagree is that the arsenic levels don't matter," said Rangan.

This is not the first controversy over arsenic in food.

Just last year, consumer reports found elevated levels in apple and grape juice. The federal government regulates arsenic in drinking water, but there are no standards for juice, rice, or any other food.

"Our messages to the FDA is that it is time to start setting a standard for arsenic in food," said Rangan.

The Illinois Attorney General is also calling on the Food and Drug Administration to set limits in food after a similar test there found elevated levels of arsenic in rice cereal for babies.

Consumer Reports recommends cutting back and eating it in moderation.

For parents, its recommended serving your baby rice cereal once a week instead of everyday.

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