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Arsenic and Rice

arsenic and rice

Our fourth baby is curious about table foods and I'm ready to start her on solids. I've come across a number of articles about arsenic in rice cereal and am considering skipping rice altogether. Do you agree with this, and if so, do I forego cereals altogether and go straight to vegetables and fruits -- or should we try oat cereal, etc.


In the past 10 years, rice cereal was encouraged by experts concerned about food allergies. Rice cereal was touted as “hypoallergenic”. Our first 7 children were fed rice cereal as a first food. Now there is a growing body of evidence that rice cereal and many other “rice products” contain arsenic.

In 2012, Consumer Reports found that rice and numerous rice containing products contained arsenic. Many of these products are trusted household names like Kellogg’s, Uncle Ben’s, Quaker and Gerber. Additional research has found higher arsenic levels in individuals who consume rice products.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element known to be poisonous and carcinogenic. Until the 1980s, arsenic was used as a pesticide in comercial argiculture. Plants grown in soil contaminated with arsenic will pick it up. This is not limited to rice. In fact, arsenic can be found in some vegetables, fruits, and fruit juices.

As anxiety grew among American consumers the industry responded. The USA Rice federation states that there is no reason for concern about United States grown rice. Arguing that “There is no documented evidence of actual adverse health effects from exposure to arsenic in U.S.-grown rice”. Many companies have responded to consumers concerns. Gerber currently states on their website: “Therefore, earlier this year, we decided to exclusively use California rice in all of our rice-containing dry infant cereal. We chose California rice because California has the lowest arsenic levels for rice grown in the United States.”

To make matter more confusing there is currently no established federal limits to define the safe level of arsenic in foods. Under increased community interest the in the fall of 2012 FDA announced that they are actively investigating arsenic levels in foods. Currently, they do not recommend that consumers change their eating habits while awaiting further scientific research.

Practically speaking there have been no epidemics of arsenic poisoning nor dramatic increases in the rates of cancer thought related to arsenic. Agricultural arsenic use ended almost 30 years ago. Logically speaking, peak arsenic levels would have occurred in the 1980s. Meaning our generation was exposed the the highest levels of arsenic in our food. By this reasoning, the arsenic doses should decrease with every crop.

I am hopeful that the FDA will eventually determine scientific based recommendations regarding arsenic levels in our diet. Until then we must make rational decisions based on known information. In general, rice products should be avoided in young children, but children and adults can continue to eat a modest amount.

My recommendations based on the available research:

1.) Eat a wide variety of non-processed foods. I will continue to eat and serve my children a modest amount of rice and rice containing products.

2.) Rice cereal should no longer be an infant’s first food. Children should start with fruits, vegetables or other grains such a barley and oatmeal.

3.) Rice should no longer be a high percentage of a young child’s diet.

- It is ok to feed your child some rice cereal. It should not be fed daily.

- Parents should no longer use rice cereal to thicken formulas or breast milk. This is often done to help alleviate symptoms of GERD. Oatmeal can serve as a reasonable alternative.

Parents should avoid formulas sweetened with brown rice syrup. Brown rice syrup is often used in organic baby products.

- Families looking for an alternative to cow’s milk, should choose something other than rice milk for their children.


Written May 2013 by
Dr. Gordon, Orlando Pediatrician


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