Environmental chemist Brian P. Jackson led the team of researchers in their study of arsenic levels in 17 infant formulas. Their results are surprising: formulas made with brown rice syrup contained a staggering 20 to 30 times more arsenic than other formulas. One organic infant formula sweetened with brown rice syrup contained six times the amount of arsenic the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe for drinking water.
The research team also looked at arsenic levels in 29 cereal bars. Brown rice syrup and other rice products were listed in the top five ingredients of 22 of these bars – and those were the cereal bars that contained the highest arsenic levels.
While arsenic is regulated in drinking water, there are no current federal limits for arsenic in food. Because of this, high levels of arsenic can be present in foods many parents assume are safe for children, such as organic infant formulas and cereal bars. Researchers say, “There is an urgent need for regulatory limits on arsenic in food.”
Jackson adds, “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 trouble with brown rice syrup? Banned pesticides left high levels of arsenic in the soil
Many people consider brown rice syrup a healthy alternative to cane sugar, but brown rice syrup comes with a serious disadvantage: high levels of arsenic.
The problem is that rice used to make brown rice syrup is typically grown in regions where arsenic pesticides were heavily used before the EPA banned them in 2009. And while these pesticides are no longer used, their toxic residue is still lurking in the soil where our food is grown.
Rice appears to soak up unusually large amounts of arsenic from the soil as it grows. Much of this arsenic ends up in the brown hull, so brown rice and brown rice syrup will contain particularly high amounts of arsenic compared to products like white rice and rice starch.
Unfortunately, buying organic doesn’t solve the problem. Organic rice syrup has been found to contain very high levels of arsenic, because even organic rice absorbs arsenic already present in the soil.
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