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Arsenic in rice milk exceeds EU and US drinking water standards

(15.03.2008)


Background:
Rice milk is made commercially as an alternative to animal-derived milk such as cows' milk. It is aimed those who are lactose intolerant, are on a macrobiotic diet or are vegetarian/vegan. It lacks the proteins, vitamins and minerals that cows' milk provides, so commercial rice milk is often fortified with these additives.

Inorganic arsenic is a chronic human carcinogen. 
Under EU legislation, total arsenic levels in drinking water should not exceed 10 μg l−1, while in the US this figure is set at 10 μg l−1 inorganic arsenic.

It is well known that rice can contain high levels of predominately inorganic arsenic (see the News section below), however the levels of arsenic in rice milk have not previously been of concern.


The new study:
The interdisciplinary group of researchers from the University of Aberdeen, UK,
analysed samples of rice milk to see if inorganic arsenic transfers from the rice into the milk. Different brands and varieties of rice milk, including organic, non-organic and flavoured, were bought from local supermarkets. They also made "home-made' rice milk, from rice grown in different parts of the world, with a commercially-available machine.

They showed that of four brands of commercial rice milk tested, all exceeded the EU total arsenic standard of 10 µg l-1 – some by as much as three times. Eighty per cent of samples also failed to meet the US standard of 10 µg l-1 inorganic arsenic.

Of the samples of 'home-made' rice milk made by the researchers, all met US standards and only one failed to meet EU standards.

It is questionable, the researchers say, if rice milk counts as a water substitute – where it would be regulated by these directives – or as a food. But they believe that in this case the distinction between the two should not be made. "Whether rice milk is a food or a drink is a moot point," the researchers say in the paper. "…if rice milk is a dietary constituent on a regular basis, then chronic arsenic exposure, at levels deemed unsafe under the EU water drinking directive, will occur."

The authors also note that currently no maximum permissible concentration (MPC) for arsenic in food has been set by the Commission of European Communities – meaning arsenic levels in food are effectively unregulated in Europe and elsewhere. "Given that arsenic in its inorganic form … is a chronic human carcinogen, it is surprising that MPCs have not been set for this element," they say.


The new study

Andrew A. Meharg, Claire Deacon, Robert C. J. Campbell, Anne-Marie Carey, Paul N. Williams, Jörg Feldmann and Andrea Raab, Inorganic arsenic levels in rice milk exceed EU and US drinking water standards, J. Environ. Monit., 2008, DOI: 10.1039/b800981c



Related Information

EVISA Info Summary:
The role of elemental speciation in legislation
 


Related News

EVISA News, February 15, 2008:
Arsenic speciation in rice: a question of the rice plant species
EVISA News, January 31, 2008: New arsenic species detected in carrot samples
EVISA News, March 7, 2007: Elevated Arsenic Levels Found In Rice Grown In South Central States of the USA
EVISA News, September 7, 2006: Toxic inorganic arsenic species found in Japanese seaweed food
EVISA News, August 3, 2005: Surprisingly high concentrations of toxic arsenic species found in U.S. rice

last time updated: March 20, 2008









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