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EFSA calls for data on arsenic levels in food and water


Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment and is present in soil, ground water and plants. It exists in different forms, of which inorganic arsenic is the most toxic, and as a variety of arsenic compounds.

More recently, methods for determination of inorganic arsenic have become available. Apart from drinking water, which is well known to significantly contribute to inorganic arsenic exposure, some studies suggest that rice and rice-based products could also contribute significantly to inorganic arsenic exposure. Other possible contributors to inorganic arsenic exposure identified were fish and seafood, cereals, root vegetables, seaweed, food supplements, mushrooms and tea. As rice-based products are often used in weaning foods for infants, exposure of infants to arsenic is of great importance and should be assessed.

The European Commission has requested that the EFSA evaluate the risks to human health related to the presence of arsenic in foodstuffs (including drinking water). In addition the Commission also asked EFSA to assess:
  • the typical ratios between inorganic and organic arsenic forms in different groups of foodstuffs;
  • the contribution of different foodstuffs to human exposure for total arsenic and inorganic arsenic, including the contribution from drinking water; and
  • the exposure of specific population groups (e.g. high consumers, infants and children, people following specific diets, etc.) and to provide an indication of the age group in which children would be most exposed to the toxic effects of arsenic.

Call for data
In addressing exposure, there is an important need to collect recent analytical data on arsenic levels in foodstuffs. Where specific data on inorganic arsenic or organic arsenic species are available, these should be provided separately, clearly specifying in the Excel table in the column "Contaminant Classification Code", which form of arsenic the analytical result relates to. If such data are not available total arsenic should be reported, specifying the code for "Total Arsenic" in the Excel table (codes for these entries are specified in Appendix 8 of the pdf document arsenic.pdf).

Closing date for the data submissions on arsenic is 14 November 2008, with the objective to collect all available data analysed during the time period from January 2003 to November 2008. These data will be used to produce the EFSA opinion on arsenic in food in response to the EC question EFSA-2008-425.

There is a further need to speciate arsenic compounds in more detail made possible through recent analytical advances in arsenic speciation analysis. It would thus be much appreciated if Member States with access to such analytical methods could collect more detailed information. Such information will be summarised in a separate report and will not be used for the EFSA opinion on arsenic in food. The closing date for the supplementary data collection on arsenic is 1 July 2009.

The new occurrence data on arsenic should be transmitted to EFSA in electronic format using the MS Excel® table arsenic.xls. The example file arsenic_example.xls contains dummy data to help the senders to comply the standard.

A detailed description of the information requested is presented in the file arsenic.pdf.

Member State data submissions should be sent to this e-mail address:


Contact person in EFSA:
Stefano Cappè (stefano.cappe@efsa.europa.eu)
Data Collection and Exposure
European Food Safety Authority
Largo N. Palli 5/A, I-43100 Parma, Italy
Tel: +39 0521 036 257 Fax: +39 0521 036 0 257

Related documents

SCOOP Report of task 3.2.11: "Assessment of the dietary exposure to arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury of the population of the EU Member States", March 2004

Source: EFSA

Related EVISA Resources

EVISA Link Database: Arsenic species and human health/nutrition/metabolism

EVISA Link Database: Toxicity of arsenic species

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last time modified: November 13, 2008

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