A bit of background..
There are two types of arsenic, organic and inorganic. The term organic could easily be confused with the farming term which describes the restricted used of pesticides and fertilisers, but when discussing arsenic, it just describes whether or not the compound contains carbon or not – carbon based arsenic is known as organic whereas non carbon containing arsenic is known as inorganic. Inorganic arsenic can be more harmful and can cause cancer. The problem with rice based products, including baby rice and rice cakes, is that rice seems to be particularly effective at absorbing arsenic from the soil.
The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) have recommended that dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic should be reduced. This is leading to further data collection and risk assessment and in 2015 European legislation on the maximum limits of arsenic in food came in to place. A monitoring recommendation was also put put forward.
The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives’ (JECFA) previous maximum limit is no longer appropriate as the data available showed an increased incidence of adverse effects and cancer of the lungs, bladder and skin with exposure to their lower limits of inorganic arsenic.
The EU Commission Regulation state that children under three years of age are estimated to eat two to three times the amount of rice based foods as adults.
An interesting extract from the Official Journal of the European Union dated 26.6.2015 in relation to the presence of arsenic in baby food states:
“The occurrence data demonstrate that rice waffles, rice wafers, rice crackers and rice cakes can contain high levels of inorganic arsenic and these commodities can make an important contribution to the dietary exposure of infants and young children. Therefore, a specific maximum level for these commodities should be envisaged.
(8) Rice is an important ingredient in a broad variety of food for infants and young children. Therefore, a specific maximum level should be established for this commodity when used as an ingredient for the production of such food
(9) Member States and food business operators should be allowed time to adapt to the new maximum levels established by this Regulation. The date of application of the maximum levels of arsenic should therefore be deferred.”
The food safety authority of Ireland say:
“Q. Is it safe for my child to consume rice and/or rice products?
It is important that children have a balanced diet that is not dominated by any one particular food. Preliminary results from the latest total diet study for adults and children in Ireland indicate that average exposure to inorganic arsenic is below the reference range set by EFSA.”
So obviously every parent has to draw their own conclusions on the information that is currently available. I would just say on my own behalf that I will not be reaching for the rice cakes as much as I previously did.
For parents of older babies and children the following information from the US Food and Drug Administration is useful…’published studies, including 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 40 to 60 percent of the inorganic arsenic content, depending on the type of rice.’
I’m not a huge fan of baby rice in general as I prefer to just give vegetables and fruit etc plain but I certainly have used it and liked using a little to calm down the bitter tastes of some of the stronger tasting fruits etc. I suppose the moral of the story is like always it is important not to over rely on any one particular food group and so my advice is to try to balance your family’s diet as much as you can to ensure the healthiest possible outcome for everyone. I will not avoid rice completely as an adult or for my children, but I will try to vary my diet more to reflect the new information and recommendations which are becoming available. Due to further data collection I imagine we will have to wait and see what restrictions are put on companies in relation to levels of arsenic in baby food, so in the mean while a practical and healthy attitude would be useful I feel.
I hope you have found this article helpful and if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to contact me by sending a private message to the WonderBaba facebook page (www.facebook.com/wonderbabacare) or by calling me (Sheena) at Milltown totalhealth Pharmacy in Dublin 6 on 012600262. I’m always happy to help!
- COMMISSION REGULATION (EU) 2015/1006 of 25 June 2015 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels of inorganic arsenic in foodstuffs